PSA stands for Prostate Specific Antigen, and until recently we would recommend a PSA for all men over the age of 50. However the times, they are a changing. If you are contemplating whether or not to get a PSA, read on.
First lets look at the basics.
Prostate cancer is, of course, cancer of the prostate. But what is the prostate? It is a walnut-sized gland that makes the fluid that carries sperm. A man has a 16% chance of being diagnosed with prostate cancer and a 3% chance of dying from it. When ranked for men over the age of 45, prostate cancer ranks fifth behind heart disease, lung cancer, stroke, and emphysema.
African Americans and people with a family history of the disease are at higher risk of developing prostate cancer.
The symptoms of prostate cancer as well as many benign prostate disorders can include:
- blood in urine
- the need to urinate frequently
- weak or interrupted urine flow
- pain or burning when urinating
- inability to urinate
- constant pain in the lower back, pelvis,or upper thighs
The current screening techniques include digital (finger) rectal exam, and PSA.
How accurate are these screening tests?
If 100 men over the age of 50 get a PSA
- 85 will be normal and 15 will be elevated
- of those 15 only 3 will actually have cancer
So what is a man to do?
I believe that the medical literature is starting to show the downside of checking PSA. Imagine yourself to be one of those 12 men who had an abnormal PSA. You would undergo weeks of uncertainty and multiple biopsies to find yourself cancer-free. The flip-side of this is if you happened to be one of the three patients whose life could have been potentially saved.
Due to the very nature of prostate cancer, it is very likely that these patients would not die from the disease. But in any case, what is the right answer?
It is important that you talk to your doctor, look at your risk factors, look at your life expectancy and together, make an informed decision. For more information, take a look at the the CDC prostate cancer handout.