What is a PSA test?
The PSA test is a blood test that measures the amount of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in the blood. This is a protein produced by normal cells in the prostate, but too much PSA may suggest problems with the prostate.
Why is it done?
The PSA test is done to diagnose prostate problems, including prostate cancer.
What does it involve?
The PSA test can be done at your GP surgery. It involves a simple blood test that is then sent to a laboratory to be tested.
Who should have the test done?
If you’re over the age of 50, or 45 and over with a family history of prostate cancer or you are in a high-risk group, you should talk to you G.P about testing your PSA levels.
How can I prepare for it?
Before having the PSA test, your GP will talk about the advantages and disadvantages of the test and talk about your risk of having prostate problems or cancer. They will also carry out a physical exam of the prostate, look at your medical history and any previous prostate biopsy results. Sometimes your GP will perform a digital rectal examination and urine test to rule out any urinary infection.
If you don’t have any prostate symptoms or you have another serious health condition, your doctor may recommend not to go ahead with the test.
You may be asked to avoid rigorous exercise and ejaculation for 48 hours before the test, as this can raise PSA levels in the blood. It may be advised to avoid anal sex and any form of prostate stimulation for a week before the test, as this too can raise the levels of PSA in the blood.
What does the procedure feel like?
The PSA test is just a simple blood test. However, the doctor will physically examine your prostate and may perform a urinary test if they believe an infection might be present.
What would a bad result mean?
A raised PSA level in the blood can be a sign of a problem with the prostate gland. It could signal:
- An enlarged prostate
- Prostate cancer
However, many men with raised PSA levels don’t have prostate cancer and some men who have prostate cancer have normal PSA levels. A PSA test alone won’t diagnose prostate cancer. A digital rectal exam, whether or not you’re at high risk of cancer and any previous test results will all need to be taking into consideration.
Other factors that can cause PSA levels to rise include:
- A urine infection
- Intensive exercise
- Ejaculation 48 hours before the test
- Anal sex 48 hours before the test
- Prostate biopsy: should be avoided for up to 6 weeks before the test
- Certain medications
If your PSA levels are high, your doctor may refer you to a specialist urologist, or if there are obvious reasons for high levels of PSA, they may simply suggest that you repeat the test in the future to see if the level changes.