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How to: Decide if a PSA test is right for you

Posted by Amy: October 2012 

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in Australia and the third most common cause of cancer death. Older men are most at-risk, with 85 per cent of cases diagnosed in men over 65 years of age.

There is no simple test available to detect prostate cancer that is proven to lower mortality rates. Based on current evidence, the harms of testing all men are greater than the benefits, which is why there is no national screening program in place. Deciding whether or not to use one of the current tests available comes down to an individual decision about what's right for you.

The prostate specific antigen (PSA) test measures the level of PSA in your blood. It does not specifically test for cancer, however it can indicate abnormalities that may need further investigation. A PSA result above the typical range may signal there is an abnormality in the prostate. This may be due to several things including, but not only, the presence of prostate cancer. A high PSA result can also indicate an enlarged prostate, benign prostate disease or may simply be high due to advancing age. The test can also miss some cancers as some men with prostate cancer will return a low PSA result.

Also used in the detection of prostate cancer is a digital rectal examination, which involves the doctor inserting a gloved finger into the rectum to feel the prostate gland. Some abnormality may be felt, but it is not possible to feel the entire prostate and cancer may be missed.

There are both benefits and risks to having a PSA test that should be considered.

The test may help detect a harmful prostate cancer before it has spread, when it can still be treated. Cancer that has not been detected early and has already spread beyond the prostate is rarely curable.

However, most prostate cancers grow slowly and are not life threatening. Treatment for these cancers has the potential to negatively impact quality of life. Major side effects of treatment can include impotence, urinary incontinence and bowel problems.

The decision whether to have a PSA test can be a confusing one, and the Cancer Council recommends you talk to your doctor before deciding what's right for you.

For more information visit www.cancer.org.au.

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