Is PSA the best prostate cancer screening test?
Regular PSA screening in all men is controversial because it can lead to over-treatment that can result in serious side effects, such as impotence and incontinence. When used with additional testing like prostate cancer markers (PCM), the PSA test can be useful.
In fact, the US Preventive Services Task Force gives routine PSA testing a “C” grade based on potential benefit vs. harm. However, as widespread PSA screening rates have declined, men have been dying at the same rate—despite advancements in treatment. Researchers also have found an association between reduced PSA screenings and an increase in the percentage of men diagnosed with late-stage prostate cancer that has metastasized, according to a 2021 study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
PCM Tests Before Prostate Biopsy
The PSA test for prostate cancer can be an important step in identifying prostate cancer early when combined with additional testing, particularly PCM tests. Traditionally, only men with a PSA greater than 4.0 ng/ML are referred for biopsies. However, current research has found that men with a PSA result greater than 1.5 ng/ML may be at risk of already having developed prostate cancer depending on other risk factors.
If your PSA test is more than 1.5 ng/ML, you and your physician could consider one of the following blood-based tests:
You and your physician could also consider these urine-based prostate cancer marker tests:
If you have a family history of prostate cancer, breast cancer, ovarian cancer or colorectal cancer, you and your healthcare provider may also consider one of these genetic tests:
Based on the results of your prostate cancer marker tests at this waypoint in your prostate cancer journey, if you are considered low-risk, you and your physician will likely choose to repeat the PSA test in a year. If you are considered high risk, you may be a candidate for a prostate biopsy.
Waypoint 1 FAQs
Below is an initial list of frequently asked questions about prostate cancer risk, PSA screening and PCM tests relevant to this topic. If you don’t see your question posted, please submit it so that we can continue to grow our library of FAQs.
Although there are many factors that contribute to your healthcare provider’s decision to conduct a prostate biopsy, there are several urinary and blood based PCMs that may help guide you and your physician through the decision of conducting a prostate biopsy. These include:
Genetic tests also may be worth considering if you have a family history of prostate cancer, breast cancer, ovarian cancer or colorectal cancer. These genetic tests are recommended for men who are determined through genetic counseling to be at potential risk for hereditary cancer:
Prostate cancer biomarkers (PCMs) are molecules found in blood, tissue, or body fluids. PCMs are revolutionary new, non-invasive diagnostic tests that may help your healthcare provider decide if your prostate cancer is in fact low risk, if something more aggressive may be lurking in your prostate, or if there are hot spots in the prostate that may need to be re-evaluated upon biopsy. PCMs also can help you and your healthcare provider determine the most appropriate treatment for your cancer.
There are many factors that will make one prostate cancer marker test better suited for individual cases. Many times, individuals who have never had a biopsy or had low to intermediate grade prostate cancer (Gleason 3+3=6 or 3+4=7) diagnosed on a biopsy are well suited for blood or urine prostate cancer markers, whereas individuals who have persistently negative biopsies or a biopsy of intermediate to high grade cancer may benefit from tissue prostate cancer markers. Use this interactive questionnaire to see what tests may be right for you. Once you’ve completed the questionnaire, discuss the results with your healthcare provider. Also be sure to check out our Patient Journey section that may help you decide which test is right for you.
The PSA test cannot differentiate between prostate cancer and non-cancerous (benign) conditions, such as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Men who receive a PSA level above 1.5 ng/ML should discuss additional biomarker testing with their healthcare providers prior to considering a prostate biopsy.
The PSA test for prostate cancer is just the first step in learning more about your risk. Below are additional insights.