Through a routine screening test, it may be possible to detect prostate cancer early on, before the tumor produces symptoms or has a chance to spread. This is important because early-stage prostate cancer often responds well to treatment.
Usually, the screening process begins with a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. This relatively simple blood test is generally recommended for men ages 50-70, as well as younger men who have a known risk factor, such as obesity or a family history of prostate cancer.
What is PSA and how does it relate to prostate cancer?
PSA is a protein produced by prostate tissue. A small amount of PSA normally enters the bloodstream. Because cancerous cells typically produce more PSA than noncancerous cells, an elevated PSA blood level may indicate the presence of prostate cancer. In general, the higher the PSA level, the more likely a prostate issue is present.
With that said, the PSA test – once considered the gold standard for prostate cancer screening – is not infallible. That’s because, in addition to prostate cancer, PSA blood levels can also rise for other, less serious reasons, such as:
- The natural aging process
- Prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate)
- Certain medical procedures that can affect the tissues surrounding the prostate, such as the placement of a catheter into the bladder
- Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) (enlargement of the prostate)
- A urinary tract infection
- Certain medications, such as finasteride and dutasteride
Therefore, when evaluating PSA levels, a physician will consider a number of other factors, such as the patient’s age and medical history. Also, prostate cancer screening often includes a digital rectal exam (DRE), which allows a physician to manually assess the prostate by inserting a gloved finger into the rectum.
What if a screening test indicates the possibility of prostate cancer?
If prostate cancer is suspected, a biopsy will be recommended. During this procedure, a physician inserts a hollow needle through the wall of the rectum to collect prostate tissue samples, which can be evaluated under a microscope for evidence of cancer.
Moffitt Cancer Center offers prostate cancer screening without referrals. To request an appointment with a specialist in our Urologic Oncology Program, call 1-888-663-3488 or complete a new patient registration form online.