Smiling senior African American male

New research is changing how health care providers screen for prostate cancer, using the prostate-specific antigen test (PSA) test. Men should work with their health care provider to decide if the PSA test is right for them.

About the PSA Test

The PSA test is a blood test that checks the levels of a protein (prostate-specific antigen) made by a man’s prostate. This test can be used to find cancer in the prostate gland at an early stage. A high PSA level can be a sign of cancer, but can also be a sign of other things, like an enlarged prostate. Your doctor would do more tests and then a biopsy of the prostate to figure out if cancer is causing the high PSA level.

What are the pros and cons to the PSA test?

The benefit of the PSA test is that it could help catch a harmful type of cancer early on, when treatment works best. However, not all prostate cancers are harmful. Most prostate cancers grow slowly, won’t cause problems and or require treatment. Treating these slow-growing cancers could do more harm than good. But harmful cancers can spread and treatment is needed to stop those. The challenge is that doctors aren’t able to know with certainty if a cancer is fast or slow growing.

The next steps after PSA testing could lead to treatment that may not be necessary for some men, and could cause harmful side effects.

You should talk to your healthcare provider about the right decision for you, based on your risk for prostate cancer, and on how you view the possible benefits and harms of testing and treatment.


This information is provided by the Comprehensive Cancer Prevention and Control Network.