PSA Test

The PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test is a blood test. It can help find prostate cancer.

PSA is a protein found in semen. It’s made by cells in the prostate gland. It's normal for some PSA to leak from the prostate into the blood. But sometimes, prostate changes lead to a higher-than-normal amount of PSA in the blood. The PSA test measures the amount of PSA in the blood. If it shows a high blood level of PSA, other tests are needed to help find the cause.

Possible causes of increased PSA

Many things can cause extra PSA to enter the blood, such as:

  • Enlarged prostate not due to cancer (called benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH)

  • Prostate biopsy

  • Prostate cancer

  • Prostate infection (prostatitis)

  • A urinary tract infection

  • Prostate injury

  • Recent ejaculation

  • Some prescription medicines

Why a PSA test is done

A PSA test can be done to check for prostate cancer. But this test by itself can’t tell for sure whether a man has prostate cancer. And not all healthcare providers agree whether all men should have PSA tests to screen for prostate cancer.

The American Cancer Society and many other organizations advise men talk with their provider to decide if prostate cancer screening is right for them. (Screening is testing for cancer in people who have no signs of it.) Talk with your provider about the PSA test starting around age 50, or earlier if you’re at higher risk. You're at higher risk if you have a family history of prostate cancer or are African American.

A PSA test may also be done if a problem is found during a routine prostate exam. And it may be done if you have symptoms that suggest you have a prostate problem. For instance, a PSA test might be advised if you have symptoms such as:

  • Pain when peeing

  • Straining to pee

  • Needing to pee more often

  • Blood in your urine

  • Waking often to pee at night

How a PSA test is done

You’ll have your blood drawn for the PSA test. A small needle is used to take the blood out of a vein in your arm or hand. This may be done in the provider’s office. Or it may be done at a lab, clinic, or hospital. The blood is then sent to a lab to be tested.

Man having his blood drawn by healthcare provider.
PSA is a simple blood test.

Many times, a digital rectal exam (DRE) is done along with the PSA test as part of prostate cancer screening. For this exam, the healthcare provider puts a greased, gloved finger into your rectum to feel your prostate.

Getting your results

The time it takes to get your test results varies. Your healthcare provider can tell you when to expect your results. You and your provider will discuss the results and any next steps together. A normal range for your PSA depends largely on your age. Other things that are important when deciding what your PSA level might mean include:

  • The size of your prostate

  • Your risk factors for prostate cancer

  • Any symptoms you have

  • Past PSA test results

All of these things are taken into account when your PSA tests numbers are checked.

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