How to explain PSA levels

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Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) is a protein produced by the prostate gland. It is possible for a physician or practitioner to test for the level of PSA in the blood by ordering a specific PSA blood test. This test is helpful in screening for many different problems that can occur within the prostate gland in men. It is important when explaining the purpose and significance of PSA levels to people who don't have a medical background to be clear and use simple language.

Explain what PSA is in plain terms. PSA is a protein that is produced by the prostate, a gland that is part of the male reproductive system. The prostate is found surrounding the urethra and plays a role in the proper functioning of the male reproductive organs.

Discuss the purpose of testing for PSA levels. PSA is produced in small amounts in men with normal prostate glands. Abnormalities that exist or develop within the prostate can cause PSA to be produced in much large amounts. Explain that because of this, testing for the amount or level of PSA in the blood can determine if there is a problem with the prostate gland.

Explain the testing process. A lab order for a PSA blood test can be written by a physician or practitioner for screening purposes or if there is a suspected problem with the prostate. The test consists of obtaining a blood sample from the patient that is tested in a laboratory and results are then sent to the physician. This process could take several days but can be ordered STAT, or urgently, as well.

Discuss risk factors and testing recommendations. Physicians and practitioners recommend that men older than 50 years of age to have a screening PSA test. Some recommend this test annually and other less frequently depending upon risk factors. Men with risk factors for prostate cancer, such as a family history of prostate cancer, diet, or race, may be advised to begin screening PSA at an earlier age.

Explain PSA test results. Because normal prostate produce small amounts of PSA, a low level of PSA is normal. Higher levels, those greater than 4 ng/ml (PSA is reported in nanograms per millilitre of blood), can indicate a problem with the prostate gland. Some common causes of higher PSA levels are inflammation of the gland, benign growths or enlargement, infection, and prostate cancer. When levels are above 4 ng/ml, further testing such as blood testing or radiology exams may be necessary to determine the cause of the elevation.

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