When a man reaches the age of 50, it becomes important for them to go for annual PSA tests. The prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test is a useful tool in measuring the PSA levels present in the blood. It is done so by drawing blood from the arm with a fine needle and the sample is then sent to a laboratory for processing. In 1994, the Food and Drug Administration approved the PSA test as a way to help detect prostate cancer. Regular testing has proved to be beneficial as deaths caused by prostate cancer in the last 20 years have been reduced to a third since the PSA test was introduced.
While having trace amounts of PSA is normal, an elevated PSA level may signify the presence of prostate cancer or other benign, non-cancerous prostate conditions.
If a man has prostate cancer, the PSA levels in their blood may be higher than normal so it's no surprise that a high PSA score can cause alarm. The American Cancer Society states that there is a 25% chance of prostate cancer when the PSA score is between 4 and 10 and that anything above that increases the odds to 50%. However, prostate cancer is not always the case. PSA levels tend to fluctuate up and down so it's possible that someone with a high PSA may not have any prostate problems at all; at the same time, it does not mean that someone with a low PSA score is not at risk, either. There are other causes for a high PSA test result such as:
Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH). BPH is when the prostate becomes enlarged and presses against the bladder and the urethra causing urinary problems. Some symptoms include urinary frequency, urgency, incontinence, frequent urination at night, and difficulty in starting the urine stream. If not given proper care, it can be a progressive disease that results in chronic and acute urinary retention. Chronic urinary retention can turn into renal failure.
Prostatitis or the inflammation of the prostate gland. It is usually associated as a response of the body to an infection, although prostatitis may also occur even when there is no infection. One of the telltale symptoms of prostatitis is pain while urinating. There are four types of prostatitis: acute bacterial prostatitis, chronic bacterial prostatitis, chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome, and asymptomatic inflammatory prostatitis.
Prostate Biopsy. A prostate biopsy is a procedure where tissue samples are taken from the prostate gland to test for cancer. An increase in one's PSA score naturally occurs after a prostate biopsy and is not necessarily indicative of cancer.
Physical activity such as bike riding or ejaculation/sexual activity.. The increase is only temporary so avoid these activities a couple of days before a scheduled PSA test.
Undergoing a Digital Rectal Exam (DRE) or urological procedures (catheterization and cytoscopy, to name a couple). PSA tests and DREs usually go hand in hand and it's best to perform a DRE after a PSA test as touching the prostate elevates PSA levels.
Other reasons such as abscesses (when pus collects and accumulates in a cavity) and infarction (tissue death caused by lack of oxygen). Liquids such as alcohol and coffee are also known to raise levels as they irritate the prostate gland. Age is another reason as PSA levels naturally increase over time.
As you can see, PSA levels may go up for reasons other than the presence of prostate cancer. Usually, a doctor will recommend undergoing a biopsy to diagnose for cancer following a PSA test that yields a high score. Keep in mind that biopsies are damaging and there are other ways to bring your PSA levels down.
To learn more about PSA levels & prostate cancer, you can read some blog posts on our blog. You can also ask a question about your PSA level using the question form on our website.