The PSA test is used primarily to screen for prostate cancer. A PSA test measures the amount of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in your blood. PSA is a protein produced in the prostate, a small gland that sits below a man’s bladder. PSA is mostly found in semen, which also is produced in the prostate. Small amounts of PSA ordinarily circulate in the blood.

A PSA test is done by examining a blood sample in a laboratory. A nurse or medical technician will use a needle to draw blood from a vein, most likely in your arm. The site may be tender for a few hours, but you’ll be able to resume most normal activities.

Limitations of the test
The limitations of the PSA test make it difficult to judge its benefits and risks. These limitations include:

  • PSA-raising factors. Besides cancer, other conditions that can raise PSA levels include an enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH) and an inflamed or infected prostate (prostatitis). Also, PSA levels normally increase with age.
  • PSA-lowering factors. Medications to treat BPH and some dietary supplements taken for prostate health can lower PSA levels.
  • Misleading results. The test doesn’t always provide an accurate result. A positive result on a PSA test — a PSA level high enough to suggest you may have cancer — doesn’t necessarily mean you have cancer. And some men with negative results are later diagnosed with prostate cancer.
  • Overdiagnosis. Studies have estimated that between 29 and 44 percent of men with prostate cancer detected by PSA tests have tumors that wouldn’t result in symptoms during their lifetimes. These symptom-free tumors are considered overdiagnoses — identification of cancer not likely to cause poor health or to present a risk to the person’s life.

Potential risks
The potential risks of the PSA test relate to the choices you make based on the test results, such as the decision to undergo further testing and treatment for prostate cancer. The risks include:

  • Biopsy issues. A biopsy is an expensive, invasive procedure that carries its own risks, including pain, bleeding and infection.
  • Psychological effects. False-positive test results — high PSA levels but no cancer found with biopsy — can produce a significant amount of anxiety or distress. You may be inclined to worry about whether the PSA test or the biopsy was correct. If you are diagnosed with prostate cancer, but it appears to be a slow-growing tumor that doesn’t result in illness, you may experience significant anxiety just knowing it’s there.

Please read additional information:

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