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Experts at M. D. Anderson Recommend Men Track their PSA Score Over Time

M. D. Anderson News Release 09/10/08

Experts at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center advise men to track their PSA exam results over time to help determine whether they are at increased risk for prostate cancer.

"Looking at a single PSA score only tells us a man's PSA level at that moment in time," said John W. Davis, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Urology at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. "Healthcare providers need to see the trend in exam results over time - usually for about four years."

The prostate specific antigen, or PSA, test is a simple blood test that measures the amount of PSA in a man's bloodstream.  PSA is a protein produced by the cells of the prostate gland.  This measurement, along with other factors, helps primary care providers determine a patient's relative risk for prostate cancer.

Men should start tracking their PSA test scores during their early screening years because this gives them a greater opportunity to identify trends over an extended period of time. Beginning at age 50, men with no family history of prostate cancer should begin annual screening exams. African-American men and men with a family history of prostate cancer should begin at age 45. By reviewing several years of PSA test results, men and their primary care provider can better assess overall prostate health and risk.

"Your primary care provider also should consider other factors that may put you at higher risk for developing prostate cancer," Davis said.

Factors that determine a man's overall risk include: 

  • Race --African-Americans get prostate cancer twice as often as white men; 
  • Family history --a man's risk is higher if his brother, son or father had prostate cancer; 
  • Age- risk for prostate cancer increases with age; 
  • Abnormal digital rectal exam -- this can increases a man's risk for prostate cancer.

Furthermore, M. D. Anderson suggests men ask their primary care provider for the actual PSA level, not just if the level is normal or elevated while tracking their PSA results. Lower levels of PSA may suggest a lower risk for prostate cancer, but it is important to understand that there is no lower limit at which there is no risk for prostate cancer. 

Men should also note the testing standard used to determine their PSA level each year. Knowing what testing standard was used helps the primary care provider know how to compare measurements from one year to the next. 

Finally, men should recognize the trends to look for in their PSA results, including:

  • A PSA score that has doubled in a year;
  • A Change in speed of increase over time - the amount of PSA in the blood is measured in nanograms per milliliter; a greater than 0.35 nanograms increase is associated with a higher risk for prostate cancer;
  • A high PSA score - between 2.5 to 4 nanograms is considered to be high and may put men at increased risk.

"Charting the trends of annual prostate screening exams is just one way that men can take action," Davis said. "It's also important for men to make healthy lifestyle choices, such as eating healthy and exercising, to further reduce their risks for developing prostate cancer and other diseases."

More than 186,000 new prostate cancer cases are expected to occur in the United States this year, but when prostate cancer is found early there is nearly a 100 percent chance for cure, according to the American Cancer Society. 

For additional information on prostate cancer prevention, visit www.mdanderson.org/focused.


© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center