PSA stands for “prostate specific antigen”. It is a protein produced by prostate cells and prostate cancer cells also produce PSA. A PSA test is used to measure the amount of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in your blood and for many men a PSA test can be an early means of detecting prostate cancer. However, while the test can be effective in determining a man’s PSA level, recent studies have shown that the PSA test alone, is not an accurate indicator of prostate cancer.
In fact, a high PSA level does not necessarily mean that you have prostate cancer. There are cases in which some men who don’t have prostate cancer are diagnosed with it. Some of these men end up undergoing unnecessary and dangerous invasive treatments with many long-term adverse effects.
As a result, doctors do not automatically recommend the PSA test for men who don’t have symptoms. Instead, they perform further assessment by looking at one’s risk of prostate cancer.
Here are 4 things that a PSA Test doesn’t measure.
1) Why your numbers are higher
You may be surprised to learn that a high PSA isn’t necessarily indicative of prostate cancer. There are a number of factors that can contribute to a high PSA and not all of them are cancer-related. For example, as a man ages, his PSA naturally increases, regardless of a prostate problem.
Urinary tract infections are another factor that can cause PSA levels to rise. Any infection near the prostate gland can irritate and inflame prostate cells, which causes PSA to increase, producing a falsely high result.
Some studies have found that exercise, such as cycling can also cause a rise in PSA. In a 2011 study showed that biking increased PSA by up to 25%. For that reason, are advised not to exercise 24 hours prior to their test.
2) If you need treatment
One of the main discrepancies with the PSA test is that it results in some men undergoing treatment that was unnecessary to begin with.
To put it in perspective, one study found that for every 1,000 men that undergo a PSA test, approximately 25 will suffer from erectile dysfunction, 3 will require pads for urinary incontinence, and 1 will be hospitalized from sepsis, which is a life-threatening infection that can occur from a biopsy.
This is not due to the PSA test itself but future procedures that a PSA test can lead to. Therefore, the PSA test can lead to having an unnecessary invasive procedure that can cause a serious infection.
A PSA test alone will not determine whether or not you need treatment, and it is important to recognize that the test alone is not an accurate indication of cancer. Doctors will need to conduct additional tests before recommending invasive procedures that can significantly impact your quality of life.
3) If your treatment is working
If you are undergoing treatment for prostate cancer PSA test may not indicate if your treatment is working. Although PSA levels are a good way of measuring cancer, as discussed previously a rise in PSA may not mean a spread in cancer.
Invasive treatments, such as a biopsy can actually lead to a rise in PSA, as the procedure causes trauma to the prostate gland. Therefore, it is often recommended that men do not have a PSA test until 2- 3 weeks later.
4) If it has spread
While a rise in PSA can indicate prostate cancer, it can’t determine when or where the cancer has spread. As a result, a biopsy might be recommended. While this helps to pinpoint whether or not you have cancer, it can have some very unsavory side effects, including bleeding, infection and sexual incontinence.
Even if you take many samples, biopsies can still sometimes miss a cancer. This occurs if none of the biopsy needles pass through the rights areas. Thus, the biopsy will have a false-negative result. In fact, one study found that biopsies detected only 67.8% of prostate cancers.
When it comes to diagnosing prostate cancer and raising awareness, the PSA test has an important role. A raised PSA level can be a sign of a problem and a PSA test can help diagnose that problem. However, while the test has its benefits, it’s also important to remember that it is not always a reliable indicator and should be followed by other tests.
Before taking a PSA test, you have to make sure that it will work for you. That is why it’s very important to talk with your doctor and have him/her assess your condition carefully and thoroughly
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