Prostate Health — A Guide to Understanding Your PSA Levels

Prostate Health — A Guide to Understanding Your PSA Levels

There’s no simple blood test that can tell you whether or not you have prostate cancer, which is the most common cancer among men (outside of skin cancer), affecting about 1 out of every 8 men. However, we have screening tools that provide essential information that can guide us, starting with the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test.

Since PSA testing plays such an important role in screening for prostate cancer, it’s certainly a tool that our team here at Arizona Urology relies on. But we also understand the scope and, more importantly, the limitations of PSA testing, which we cover here.

What PSA can tell us

PSA is a protein produced by cells in your prostate. When we test your PSA, we’re testing the levels in your blood. When your PSA levels are high, it can indicate a problem in your prostate, but this protein is produced by both malignant and benign cells.

The scale of numbers we’re dealing with ranges between 1 and 10 and above, and we measure PSA in nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL). Typically, measurements below 4 ng/mL aren’t cause for concern, while measurements between 4 ng/mL and 10 ng/mL warrant a closer look. Any number over 10 ng/mL raises the alarm a little higher. 

That said, people with PSA levels below 4 ng/mL can have prostate cancer, while someone with an elevated reading of 9 ng/mL may be in the clear.

One of the reasons for this is that elevated PSA levels are far from being unique to possible prostate cancer as they might also indicate:

Simple aging can also raise PSA levels to some extent.

Following up on elevated PSA levels

Depending on your number and risks (more on this in a moment), we can go in several directions with elevated PSA levels. In many cases, we follow up with more PSA testing to spot any changes or trends, 

If we find that your PSA levels continue to rise, we may recommend a prostate biopsy, which we use to determine whether there are cancerous cells in your prostate. The stats give you an idea about the findings: Only about 25% of people who undergo a biopsy due to elevated PSA levels are diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Your risks for prostate cancer matter 

As you might imagine, since PSA levels are inexact when determining risk, it’s just one tool in our toolkit. We also turn to digital rectal exams, biopsy, digital imaging, and a thorough review of your personal and family history to paint a clearer picture.

For example, if we find that you carry specific genetic mutations or you have a family history of prostate cancer, we may be a little more vigilant about screening and testing.

The bottom line is that your PSA levels can provide us with helpful information, but a lot can potentially influence these numbers, so it’s just a preliminary step.

If you have more questions about PSA levels and about screening for prostate cancer, or you’d like to schedule a screening, please contact one of our locations in Phoenix, Goodyear, Gilbert, or Glendale, Arizona, to book an appointment.

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