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Tracking Your PSA: Be Proactive!

Focused on Health - September 2008

M. D. Anderson volunteer, Solomon Schien, tracks his PSA results every year.

“Getting an annual PSA test has given me peace of mind,” said Solomon Schein, a long-time M. D. Anderson volunteer. “I keep track of my PSA results on a regular basis because I know that the best chance for surviving prostate cancer is detecting it as early as possible.”

John W. Davis, M.D., assistant professor in M. D. Anderson’s Department of Urology, agrees with Solomon. “Reviewing your PSA results over the past four or more years – versus concentrating on a one-time score – can greatly assist you and your primary care provider in determining whether you are at increased risk for the disease.”

Prostate Screening Guidelines

The prostate specific antigen, or PSA, test is a simple blood test used to screen for prostate cancer. It 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 your primary care provider determine your relative risk for prostate cancer.

M. D. Anderson recommends that beginning at age 50, men with no family history of prostate cancer should begin annual prostate cancer screening exams. African-American men and men with a family history of prostate cancer should begin annual screening exams at age 45. Both a digital rectal exam and a PSA blood test should be performed.

Warning Signs to Monitor

By reviewing several years of PSA test results, you and your primary care provider can better monitor trends in your PSA levels. Some of the signs to look for are:

  • PSA score that has doubled in a year
  • Velocity(or 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.
  • High PSA scoreBetween 2.5 to 4 nanograms is considered to be high and may put you at increased risk.

Men should start tracking their PSA test scores during their early years of screening so they have an opportunity to track trends over an extended period of time.

Tips for Tracking Your PSA Levels

Davis suggests the following tips for tracking your PSA levels:

For an easy way to track your PSA levels, download our PSA tracking tool and use it to initiate a discussion with your primary care provider.

  • Ask your primary care provider for the actual PSA level, not just if the level is normal or elevated. 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.
  • Note the testing standard used to determine your PSA level each year.Knowing what testing standard was used helps your primary care provider know how to compare measurements from one year to the next.

Prostate Cancer Risk Factors

“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 your overall risk include:

  • Race: African-Americans get prostate cancer twice as often as white men.
  • Family history: Your risk is higher if your brother, son or father had prostate cancer.
  • Age: As you get older, your risk for prostate cancer increases.
  • Abnormal digital rectal exam: An abnormal exam result increases your risk for prostate cancer.

Educating Men About Prostate Cancer

Davis and other M. D. Anderson experts in men’s health will host a free educational program “Prostate Health: Cover All Your Bases” on Thursday, Sept. 11 2008. Attendees will learn more about tracking PSA scores and tips on maintaining overall prostate health.

“An annual prostate screening exam 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.”

Additional topics to be covered at the session include the new prostate cancer prevention drug, Finesteride, cooking to prevent prostate cancer, and new urine and blood tests currently being investigated to detect prostate cancer.

For More Information
Learn more about tracking your PSA levels by viewing our podcast located in the multimedia resource box on the right-hand side of this page.

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