Health Alert 194
Prostate cancer has been on the rise and now strikes about 1 out of 10 men. Recent evidence can arm you with a better way to determine your chances of developing a deadly cancerous growth in your prostate.
The key element in the fight against all cancers is early detection. The role of your yearly PSA test is now more useful than ever in predicting your chances of developing prostate cancer.
In this letter, I’ll tell you how a new interpretation of your PSA can prevent you from becoming one of the 82 men who die each day in the United States from prostate cancer.
* The Problem with the “Gold Standard” PSA *
Until recently, the emphasis on your PSA (prostate specific antigen) has been the absolute number. (See Health Alert 105.) A high PSA is still a viable indicator of potential cancerous activity. The higher your PSA, the higher your odds of prostatic cancer.
There is a problem, however. Other medical conditions such as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), infections of the prostate and other urological problems can also increase your PSA. These other causes can result in medical procedures you don’t need. Or, they can lead to a dangerous “wait and see” approach by doctors while your cancer continues to grow.
Recent studies now indicate that you and your doctor should be concentrating on how rapid your PSA levels increase, as opposed to the overall level of PSA. Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital have discovered that the speed in which your PSA rises is far better at predicting prostate cancer than a single high PSA.
* Improve Your Chance with a Better PSA *
By monitoring the rate of your PSA increase from year to year, you and your doctor can take action well before your PSA levels are high enough to indicate potential cancerous activity inside your prostate.
This earlier detection is vital to your survival. Research shows that the faster your PSA increases the greater your chances of developing a faster growing potentially fatal tumor.
This new interpretation of your PSA should reaffirm your desire to test every year. Only by comparing test results with previous test scores will you and your doctor be able to chart the speed at which your PSA levels are rising.
These tests are quick, easy and are covered by all medical insurance. In the past it has been recommended that men start getting their PSA levels tested by the age 50, unless family history indicates a need to start testing earlier. If you are presently in your thirties or forties and have never had a PSA, you should get one at your next physical.
This way once you do need to start screening your PSA levels, you and your doctor will already have one previous test score, in order to measure how much your PSA levels change.
Al Sears MD
National Center for Health Statistics; National Cancer Institute.
D’Amico, Anthony MD., New England Journal of Medicine. 2004, July.