According to the
Harvard Men’s Health Watch, July 2001, “The Prostate Specific Antigen
(PSA) is the most important recent development in men’s health. It’s also
the most controversial. The PSA test is important because it’s the best way
to detect cancer in its earliest form. But it’s controversial because
experts disagree about how to use it.”
What is the PSA test? PSA is a protein produced in the prostate gland. PSA
is a normal part of the ejaculate and helps to liquefy the semen so the
sperm can swim more easily to the target and fertilize the egg. Although PSA
is made in the body to assist the semen, some of the PSA makes its way into
the bloodstream. If a man has developed prostate cancer, his blood tests
will show elevated PSA, and the doctor will conduct additional testing to
determine the extent of the cancer. This will involve a biopsy and digital
rectal exam, as well as other scans. This is done so the doctor can better
evaluate the patient’s condition for treatment and/or surgery.
If the PSA test result falls in the normal range, the doctor will advise the
patient concerning future tests, depending on age, family history, and so
If the PSA test result is elevated but additional tests show that the
patient does not have cancer, then the doctor will conduct further tests to
verify that the PSA test is not a false positive and whether the patient has
benign (not malignant) prostate hyperplasia (swelling) or BPH. Medications
and herbal preparations such as saw palmetto can help the man with BPH
achieve a better quality of life.
Should healthy men have annual PSA tests? The answer differs from doctor to
doctor. Every man should have a medical examination every year and a frank
discussion with his doctor about the state of his health, including his
prostate health and whether he should have a PSA test. Prostate cancer is a
common cancer in the U.S. as well as other industrial countries, and nearly
all U.S. urologists recommend testing, yet few Canadian and European doctors
recommend the test.
To help you decide whether the PSA test is for you, Better Life offers the
- The PSA test was discovered in 1970 and doctors began using the test
in 1986, so the test and range of results are well established. PSA
tests are inexpensive, quick, and safe.
- Many doctors recommend testing for their patients over 50 years of
age, and also recommend earlier testing whenever there is a strong
family history of prostate cancer.
- African-American men should begin PSA tests at about 40 because
prostate cancer rates are very high among these men.
- Up to three-quarters of prostate cancers are slow growing, but
others are very aggressive and highly lethal. Only testing can determine
how aggressive the cancer is.
- PSA testing is the best way to detect early prostate cancer while it
is still in the curable stage.