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Prostate-Specific Antigen: Know Your Level


To monitor the health of your prostate, you should understand the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. This test indicates the level of PSA, a protein specific to the prostate, in the blood. A higher PSA level indicates a greater chance that prostate cancer is present.

The test, which typically is done once a year, requires a simple blood draw, says Shilajit D. Kundu, MD, a urologist at Northwestern Medicine.

"The PSA test often serves as the primary screening option," says Dr. Kundu. "If abnormal, this will often be followed up by more testing, such as additional blood tests and imaging of the prostate."

For those who prefer to forego needle of the PSA test, digital rectal exams may also be an option for prostate cancer screening.

When to Get Tested

Routine screening for prostate cancer can help detect the disease at an early stage. The age to begin screening depends on your risk of prostate cancer.

"The decision to get a PSA test should be discussed with your provider through a shared decision-making process," says Dr. Kundu. He adds that for those with average risk for prostate cancer, PSA screening typically starts at age 55.

Those with a higher risk of prostate cancer — including Black men and men with a family history of prostate cancer — should discuss with their provider the possibility of earlier screening.

Some symptoms might warrant earlier screening. Contact your physician if you experience any of the following:

  • Increased urge to urinate, especially at night
  • Pain or burning during urination
  • Weakness or numbness in the legs or feet
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Pain or stiffness in the hips, lower back, ribs or upper thighs, in advanced cases

While these symptoms might indicate prostate cancer, they are often caused by other conditions. Your physician can help determine a diagnosis.

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