Why it's done

Prostate cancer is common, and a frequent cause of cancer death. Among men in the United States, prostate cancer is the leading non-skin cancer and second only to lung cancer as the leading cause of cancer death. Early detection may be an important tool in getting appropriate and timely treatment.

Men with prostate cancer may have elevated levels of PSA. However, many noncancerous conditions also can increase a man's PSA level. The PSA test can detect high levels of PSA in the blood but doesn't provide precise diagnostic information about the condition of the prostate.

The PSA test is only one tool used to screen for early signs of prostate cancer. Another common screening test, usually done in addition to a PSA test, is a digital rectal exam.

In this test, your doctor inserts a lubricated, gloved finger into your rectum to reach the prostate. By feeling or pressing on the prostate, the doctor may be able to judge whether it has abnormal lumps or hard areas.

Neither the PSA test nor the digital rectal exam provides enough information for your doctor to diagnose prostate cancer. Abnormal results in these tests may lead your doctor to recommend a prostate biopsy.

During this procedure, samples of tissue are removed for laboratory examination. A diagnosis of cancer is based on the biopsy results.

Other reasons for PSA tests

For men who have already been diagnosed with prostate cancer, the PSA test may be used to:

  • Judge the effectiveness of a treatment
  • Check for recurring cancer
April 14, 2016
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