The prostate specific antigen (PSA) test is a blood test used to help in the early detection of prostate cancer. PSA, an ingredient of semen, is made by the prostate. Some PSA naturally leaks from the prostate into the bloodstream. The PSA test measures the amount of PSA in the blood. As a man ages, more PSA leaks into the blood. Problems with the prostate-such as prostatitis (prostate infection), BPH (benign prostatic enlargement), or cancer-may cause extra PSA to enter the blood. A prostatic massage or prostate biopsy can also raise PSA levels. If a PSA test shows higher than normal blood levels of PSA, other tests are necessary to help determine the cause of the increase.
Why a PSA Test Is Done
PSA is a simple blood test.
Your doctor may recommend a PSA test if:
You are over 50 years old.
You are over 40 years old and African-American or have family members who've had prostate cancer (factors that increase your own risk for prostate cancer).
A problem is found during your routine prostate exam.
You have symptoms that may suggest prostate problems, such as frequent urination (especially at night), urgent urination, having to strain when urinating, blood in your urine, or pain.
How It's Done
If your doctor recommends a PSA test, a routine prostate exam has probably been done first. Then you'll be sent to have your blood drawn for the PSA test. The test is done at a blood drawing station-usually in the doctor's office or at a lab, clinic, or hospital. Blood is taken from your arm and sent to a laboratory for evaluation.
Getting Your Results
The time it takes to get your test results varies from lab to lab. Ask your doctor when you can expect them. When the results return, you and your doctor can discuss what they mean. A normal range for your PSA depends on a number of factors. These include your age, the size of your prostate, your risk factors for cancer, your symptoms, and the results of your previous PSA tests, if any. These factors are taken into account when your PSA test numbers are interpreted and evaluated.
For Your Health
Even if your PSA level is normal, continue to have regular prostate exams. If you are African-American or have a family history of prostate cancer, your doctor may recommend PSA tests by age 40-45.