One of the most common threats to a man’s health is prostate cancer — about 1 in 8 men in the United States is diagnosed with the disease. The good news is that prostate cancer is treatable, especially with early detection, and a PSA test is the first step toward figuring out whether cancer poses a risk.
At Arizona Urology, our team of health experts helps men navigate their health, and we offer comprehensive screening for prostate cancer, starting with PSA testing.
Here, we review what this test accomplishes and what you should know about the results.
What the PSA test tells us
When we perform a PSA test, we draw a sample of your blood to determine the levels of PSA. PSA stands for prostate-specific antigen, a protein produced by prostate cells — both normal cells and malignant cells.
In other words, the production of PSA is perfectly normal, and when we test, we’re looking for higher-than-normal levels. PSA is measured in nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) and, as a general rule of thumb, a reading under 4 ng/mL is considered normal, while readings between 4 and 10 ng/mL might be considered elevated, and anything over 10 might be considered high.
Limits of PSA testing
In 1986, the FDA approved the use of PSA testing to screen for prostate cancer, and in 1994, they added a digital rectal exam (DRE) to the screening.
Even combined with a DRE, PSA testing is by no means definitive when it comes to determining whether prostate cancer is present. First, PSA levels may be elevated for reasons other than cancer, such as benign prostate hyperplasia or inflammation in your prostate. Second, someone with levels under 4 ng/mL may still develop prostate cancer, and many men with elevated levels never develop cancer.
If your PSA levels are elevated, it simply indicates that your risks for prostate cancer may be higher, not that you have the disease.
Another point to consider is that prostate cancer is slow growing, so elevated PSA test results aren't necessarily cause for alarm.
Further testing and monitoring
If we find that you have elevated PSA levels, we run more of these tests periodically to see if there’s an upward trend. If there's no change in your PSA levels, even if they’re elevated, there may be no cause for concern, and we may simply continue to monitor the situation.
If we do see ticks upward in your PSA levels, we may conduct further testing, namely a biopsy in which we remove tissue to examine it for the presence of abnormal cells.
The bottom line is that PSA testing is only one tool to help us screen for prostate cancer risk, and an elevated PSA result is far from diagnostic.
If you have more questions about elevated PSA levels, please contact one of our locations in Goodyear, Gilbert, or Glendale, Arizona, to set up a consultation.