Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) Test: What is it?

The prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test measures the level of PSA in a man's blood and is primarily used to screen for prostate cancer. PSA is a protein produced by both normal and cancerous cells in the prostate gland. The test is a straightforward blood test that quantifies the concentration of PSA in the blood, with results reported in nanograms of PSA per milliliter (ng/mL).

To perform the PSA test, a healthcare provider will draw blood from a vein, typically in the arm. The sample is then analyzed in a laboratory. The PSA test is conducted when there is a suspicion of issues with the prostate, such as prostate cancer, benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), or prostatitis. Traditionally, a PSA level of 4 ng/mL has been considered the threshold between normal and elevated levels. Here is a general guideline:

  • Below 4 ng/mL: PSA levels are usually considered normal.
  • 4 to 10 ng/mL: PSA levels are regarded as slightly elevated. Approximately 25% of men in this range have prostate cancer.
  • Above 10 ng/mL: PSA levels are significantly elevated. More than 50% of men with PSA levels in this range have prostate cancer.

It is important to note that these ranges are only guidelines, and various factors can influence PSA levels. For instance, PSA levels naturally increase with age, and certain procedures, medications, and conditions can cause temporary elevations in PSA levels.

The primary advantage of the PSA test is its ability to detect prostate cancer early, potentially before symptoms develop. Early detection can lead to more effective treatment and improved prognosis. However, the PSA test is not flawless and has limitations, including the risk of false-positive and false-negative results.

A false positive refers to elevated PSA levels that do not always indicate cancer. They can be caused by less severe conditions, leading to unnecessary worry and further testing. A false negative means that some men with prostate cancer may not have elevated PSA levels, potentially resulting in missed diagnoses. Therefore, an elevated PSA level from the test should be considered an indicator for further investigation to determine the underlying cause.

Disclaimer: This blog post is intended solely for informational purposes. It is not meant to serve as medical advice. For professional medical guidance, please consult your doctor.

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