Q: Is it important to get a PSA test to screen for prostate cancer, particularly if you’re age 55 or older?
A: Let’s answer that question with another question: If there were a simple test that could quickly determine your risk of having one of the world’s most common cancers, would you take it?
For most, the answer is surely “yes” — which explains why a PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test is viewed as a key tool for people with a prostate to manage their health after they reach a certain age.
But let’s start with some basic information. A PSA test is a blood test used to gauge the risk of prostate cancer. The prostate is a small gland that is part of the male reproductive system.
Is the PSA test without flaws? No. It’s possible to get test results showing elevated PSA levels without having prostate cancer. Higher levels could be a sign of an infection in the prostate or urinary tract, for instance.
But at the end of the day, a PSA test provides information that can lead to earlier detection and treatment of prostate cancer — particularly for those with higher risk levels. (More on that in a moment.)
The following statistics from the American Cancer Society help illustrate why testing is so important:
- On average, 1 out of 8 people with a prostate will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in their life. Those affected include men, transgender women, intersex people and non-binary people with biologically male sex organs.
- Prostate cancer is more common later in life, with the average age of those diagnosed being 66.
- Approximately 250,000 Americans get diagnosed with prostate cancer every year.
- More than 34,000 people in the United States die of prostate cancer every year.
Who should get a PSA test?
The American Urological Association recommends that people with a prostate between the ages of 55 and 69 look into getting a PSA test. It’s especially critical for higher risk groups, including those who are Black or have a family history of the disease.
Those with a higher risk of prostate cancer often choose to get an annual PSA test, sometimes starting before age 55. Those at lower risk often get a PSA test every other year. Some age 70 and older also choose to continue testing.
Talk to your doctor about what might be beneficial for you and how a PSA test can help you monitor for prostate cancer.
As mentioned, the test is simple — just a few minutes of your time and a needle poke. But it’s something you can do to get a better picture of your health and potentially learn about issues early enough for treatment and a good outcome.
With that in mind, here’s one more statistic: There are more than 3.1 million people alive today in the United States who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point.
Early diagnosis from a PSA test improves one’s chances of joining that group.
— Urologist Samuel Haywood, MD