Prostate cancer affects a man's prostate gland, the organ involved in the production of semen. It also produces a protein, called prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, which is a key indicator of a healthy prostate. A healthy man without prostate cancer should only have a small amount of PSA circulating in his blood, however problems with the prostate can cause the gland to produce more PSA than normal. Prostate cancer can, but not always, cause elevated PSA levels. While prostate cancer typically grows slowly and stays restricted to the gland, there are cases when it can be extremely progressive and spread beyond the prostate.
There may not be symptoms in the early stages of prostate cancer but, as it advances, the following may be noticed:
As prostate cancer doesn't have symptoms in its early stages, it would be useful to be screened for it so any cancer can be detected and treated before symptoms arise. Presently, a PSA test is the most effective and accurate means of screening for prostate cancer.
A blood test will be needed to measure the amount of PSA (prostate protein) in the blood. The resultant levels of PSA will help a urologist diagnose prostate cancer, determine a prognosis for those who have prostate cancer, and track progression of the cancer, or a patient's response to treatment.
The level of PSA is not an accurate way of assessing problems in the prostate as some men who have prostate cancer do not have elevated PSA levels. Elevated PSA levels may not necessarily point to cancer, but may be a result of an infection or an enlarged prostate. A PSA test alone may not be entirely conclusive for diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer. Speak with your doctor regarding interpretation of PSA test results, diagnosis and, if necessary, treatment options.
Questions to ask include:
A baseline PSA test is done at a stage in your life in your 40s when your risk of prostate cancer is low and is used to evaluate your risks of getting prostate cancer in the future. If the test reveals a slightly higher level of PSA than most men of the same age, this could indicate an increased likelihood of developing prostate cancer in the future. The doctor may then decide to schedule regular PSA tests to track a patient's PSA levels over time. The trending of these PSA results instead is more useful in the stratification of one's risks of developing prostate cancer.
The PSA test is just one tool a doctor will use in the screening and diagnosis of prostate cancer. If the results lead your doctor to suspect prostate cancer, they will recommend a prostate biopsy. Here, samples of tissue are removed for laboratory examination. A diagnosis of cancer will be based on the biopsy results. To improve the accuracy of these biopsies, most urologists will advise that you undergo a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of the prostate to seek out specific areas of the prostate to target.
Should you suspect anything, address your concerns with your urologist, who will be able to provide you with more accurate diagnosis of your condition.