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Is a PSA Test Right for You

Introduction

A prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test is a blood test that can help determine whether you have prostate cancer. If you’re considering a PSA test, or your doctor recommends it, the information on these pages can help you work with your doctor to make the choice that’s best for you.

Is This Information Right for You?

The information on these pages is for men of all ages who are considering having a PSA test. The information is not intended for men who already have prostate cancer.

Currently, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a government-appointed panel of doctors and researchers, recommends against PSA testing for healthy men of all ages because their analysis concluded that the possible harms outweigh the potential benefits. The Task Force’s recommendation was based on studies that were also reviewed and considered in the development of these Web pages.

However you’re likely to hear different opinions about this issue, because other doctors and experts believe the PSA test is still the best way to detect prostate cancer at the earliest stages. What most doctors and experts agree on is that the decision about PSA testing is one that each man needs to make for himself.


Medical Editor: Richard Hoffman, MD


Reviewed/Updated: 7/17/2013
active surveillance

An approach that involves monitoring a disease and deciding about treatment only if the disease worsens. In the case of prostate cancer, doctors monitor men with localized cancers for signs of cancer spread or growth using PSA tests, digital rectal exams, and prostate biopsies. In this approach, doctors offer treatments to cure the cancer only if the cancer progresses—or if a man is no longer comfortable with active surveillance. Also known as expectant management.

biopsy

A sample of tissue taken to be checked for abnormalities such as cancer. A prostate biopsy involves inserting a needle through the rectum to take small samples of the prostate gland.

biopsies

Samples of tissue taken to be checked for abnormalities such as cancer. A prostate biopsy involves inserting a needle through the rectum to take small samples of the prostate gland.

bladder

A hollow organ in the lower abdomen that stores urine before it leaves the body.

brachytherapy

Treatment to kill cancer cells by either permanently placing radioactive “seeds” in the prostate gland (low-dose rate brachytherapy) or temporarily placing tiny plastic catheters between the scrotum and the rectum to deliver radiation directly into the prostate gland (high-dose rate brachytherapy).

digital rectal exam

A test to check for prostate cancer. A doctor inserts a gloved finger into the rectum to feel for any lumps or hard areas of the prostate through the rectum wall.

digital rectal exams

Tests to check for prostate cancer. A doctor inserts a gloved finger into the rectum to feel for any lumps or hard areas of the prostate through the rectum wall.

external beam radiation

A prostate cancer treatment that involves directing a focused beam of radiation at the prostate gland. The radiation kills cancer cells.

Gleason score

A grading system for prostate cancer cells. It gives a general idea of how serious the cancer is and whether it may grow or spread.

prostate

A male gland located below the bladder and in front of the rectum. It makes some of the fluid that carries sperm to the penis when a man has sex.

prostatectomy

Surgery that removes the entire prostate gland. Also called radical prostatectomy.

prostate-specific antigen

A protein made by the prostate that is measured by the PSA blood test. A high level of it in the blood may signal prostate cancer, but it may also be a sign of other conditions, such as prostate inflammation or enlargement.

PSA test

A blood test that measures the level of prostate-specific antigen in the blood. While the PSA test can suggest you might have cancer, a biopsy is needed to know for sure.

PSA tests

Blood tests that measure the level of prostate-specific antigen in the blood. While the PSA test can suggest you might have cancer, a biopsy is needed to know for sure.

radiation

Energy released in particles or waves that can be used as a treatment for prostate cancer. It kills cancer cells by using either a beam of radiation aimed at the prostate from outside the body, or by using radioactive seeds put into the prostate. For more serious cancers, both may be used.

radical prostatectomy

Surgery that removes the entire prostate gland. Also called prostatectomy.

rectum

The end portion of the large intestine, through which solid waste moves out of the body.

urethra

The tube that carries urine or sperm through the penis and out of the body.

watchful waiting

An approach that involves not having treatment to cure a disease. In the case of prostate cancer, men who choose this approach receive treatments to ease symptoms and improve quality of life if their cancers progress.

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