The PSA test is a blood test measures the amount of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in your blood. PSA is a protein produced by both cancerous and noncancerous tissue in the prostate. The test can detect high levels of PSA that may indicate the presence of prostate cancer. However, many other conditions, such as an enlarged prostate or prostatitis, can also increase PSA levels. Therefore, determining what a high PSA score means can be complicated. Professional organizations vary in their recommendations about who should — and who shouldn’t — get a PSA screening test. Discussing with your doctor the benefits and potential risks of the PSA test can help you make an informed decision.
Benefits Of PSA Testing
A PSA test may help detect prostate cancer at an early stage. Cancer is easier to treat and is more likely to be cured if it’s diagnosed in its early stages. Other benefits of testing include:
- A normal PSA test may put your mind at ease
- A PSA test may find prostate cancer early before it has spread.
- Early treatment of prostate cancer may help some men to avoid problems from cancer.
- Early treatment of prostate cancer may help some men live longer.
Risks of PSA Testing
You may wonder how getting a test for prostate cancer could have a downside. After all, there’s little risk involved in the test itself as it simply requires drawing blood for evaluation in a lab. However, there are some potential dangers once the results are in. These include:
- A false-positive result on a PSA test suggests that a man might have prostate cancer when he actually doesn’t. This happens quite often with PSA testing and only about 1 in 4 abnormal results is due to cancer. A false-positive result can lead to unnecessary follow-up testing that is more invasive, such as repeated biopsies. It can also cause men and their families unnecessary anxiety and distress.
- A false-negative result means that the test shows that the PSA level is normal even though prostate cancer is present. PSA testing misses about 15% of prostate cancers. Getting a false-negative result may mean that a man and his doctor ignore symptoms of prostate cancer.
- Overdiagnosis means diagnosing prostate cancer that would never pose a serious threat to a man’s health. Overdiagnosis can lead to giving treatments that aren’t absolutely necessary (overtreatment). Research shows that 23%–42% of prostate cancers that are found with PSA testing may never need to be treated. But most men diagnosed with prostate cancer still choose to have treatment. Unnecessary follow-up testing and treatment put a man at risk for problems, including erectile dysfunction and loss of bladder control (called urinary incontinence).
Before getting a PSA test, talk to your doctor about all the benefits and risks. If you decide that a PSA test is right for you. Discussing the issues beforehand will make it easier for you to understand the results of your test and allow you to make appropriate decisions regarding treatment.