The PSA Test - How Does It Work

By: verlyn
The purpose of this article is to remove some of the mystery surrounding the PSA test and its use in signaling the potential presence of prostate cancer.

The cells of the prostate gland produce prostate-specific antigen. A rectal exam and a PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test will help detect prostate cancer in men age 50 or over. The Federal Drug Administration approved the use of the PSA test to detect prostate cancer and to see if the cancer has recurred. A high PSA level is a sign that cancer is present. There are other reasons for a high PSA level and PSA screening has some limits.

The PSA test measures the level of protein produced by the prostate gland. The doctor will take a blood sample and send it to a laboratory. This test is sometimes called a biological marker for cancer tumors. Men normally have low levels of PSA in their blood. If the rate is high, it could point to prostate cancer but it can mean there are other non-cancer conditions present in the prostate. As men get older, prostate cancer and other prostate problems become more of a problem. Enlarged prostate and prostatitis may raise the PSA levels in the blood. Neither of these problems causes cancer but it is possible for a man with one of these problems to develop prostate cancer.
The PSA level will not tell the doctor if the patient has a benign prostate problem or cancer. The doctor will use the PSA test to decide if there should be a check for other signs of prostate cancer.

The Federal Drug Administration approved the PSA test to be used with a rectal exam to check for any abnormalities in the prostate. The doctor will insert a gloved finger into the rectum to check for lumps or areas that seem abnormal. The PSA test is used with this rectal exam to detect cancer in men, especially those who have no symptoms. The FDA also approved the test for patients who have had prostate cancer to see if the cancer has come back.

The PSA test is highly recommended for men over the age of 50. If the patient has a high risk factor for prostate cancer, the doctor may recommend PSA testing to start at age 45. There are some risk factors a man should look at if a doctor recommends routine screening. Age is the most common risk factor, but if there is a family history of prostate cancer you have a greater chance of having it too. African-American has the largest risk of contacting prostate cancer. Native American and Asian men have the lowest rates of this disease. Some think this might be because a diet that is high in animal fat may increase the chance of getting prostate cancer.

If a man shows a high PSA level in his blood the doctor may look for other causes before doing more screening for prostate cancer. If the patients have no other symptoms, you may be advised to watch for any changes in urination habits and take another PSA test in a few months.
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