About the Test
Purpose of the test
A PSA test can determine if you have high levels of PSA in your blood. Normally, PSA is produced and released within the prostate gland, where it helps make semen and plays an important role in fertility. Only small amounts of PSA move out of the prostate and into the blood in healthy people.
However, several prostate conditions can cause higher levels of PSA in the blood. A doctor may order a PSA test for several reasons:
- Cancer screening: If you have prostate cancer, you often have elevated levels of PSA in your blood, but higher levels are also found in people without prostate cancer. The decision about whether or not to use a PSA test to screen for prostate cancer is highly individualized based on your risk factors and health history. Work with your doctor to understand the risks and benefits of PSA screening.
- Diagnosis: If you have symptoms of a prostate condition or your prostate gland is not normal during a physical exam, your doctor may recommend a PSA test. An elevated PSA level may indicate a prostate issue, such as prostate cancer, benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), or prostate inflammation. This may lead to more follow-up testing to determine the diagnosis.
- Monitoring and follow-up: If you’ve been diagnosed with prostate cancer or BPH, your doctor may order PSA tests to monitor the effects of treatment. For those who have completed treatment for prostate cancer, the PSA test can be used to check for signs that cancer has come back.
What does the test measure?
The PSA test measures levels of prostate-specific antigen in the blood, and the results indicate the amount of PSA in a certain volume of blood. Results are usually expressed as nanograms of PSA per milliliter (ng/mL) of blood.
When should I get a PSA test?
As recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, PSA testing is a routine screening done on men after age 55 until they are 69 years old. In some cases, doctors may recommend screening at an earlier age.
The test may be done as part of the annual physical but can be more or less frequent depending on your preference and family history. Any concerning results may warrant repeat testing.
Finding a PSA Test
How can I get a PSA test?
Trained health care professionals collect samples used for PSA testing at hospitals, labs, and other medical settings. Before getting tested, it’s best to talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of PSA testing. You may be able to schedule your own PSA test at a clinic or laboratory without a doctor’s order. But you will need a doctor to interpret your test results and recommend the next steps.
Can I take the test at home?
Although testing for PSA at home is uncommon, several at-home PSA tests are available. At-home PSA tests typically involve collecting samples of blood at home through a fingerstick and sending them to a laboratory for testing. When considering at-home PSA testing, it’s important to understand the potential harms of this test.
At-home testing may be less accurate than testing a sample taken from a vein. PSA testing can also show a higher result when cancer isn’t present and can lead to additional diagnostic procedures. Because the role of PSA testing is highly individualized, it’s important to seek testing only under the care and guidance of a doctor.
How much does the test cost?
The price of a PSA test will vary based on where the test is conducted and whether you have health insurance. If you have health care coverage, you can contact your insurance provider directly to find out what a PSA test will cost under your plan. Depending on your plan, you may be responsible for out-of-pocket costs, such as copays and deductibles.
Taking a PSA Test
During a blood draw, a health care professional will use a small needle to take a sample of blood from a vein in your arm before sending the sample to a laboratory for analysis.
Before the test
There are several precautions to consider before a PSA test. Because certain drugs can cause PSA levels to increase, it’s important to talk to your doctor about any medications you’re taking. Be sure to tell your doctor about recent procedures or situations that affect your urinary system, including injuries, surgeries, and infections.
You may be advised to avoid having sex or masturbating for 24 hours before your blood draw. Your PSA level can rise after releasing semen, so a day of abstinence can ensure you get the most accurate results.
During the test
Having your blood drawn often begins with a health care provider locating an appropriate vein, usually in your arm, and tying an elastic band above the site to increase blood flow. The area is cleaned to remove germs on the skin before a needle is inserted into the vein. Blood is then drawn out of the arm into a sample tube used for collection. Blood draws typically take less than five minutes.
Providing a blood sample for a PSA test should be a quick and relatively painless process. You may feel a brief sting from the needle prick, and you might experience minor bruising around the spot the needle is inserted. Any discomfort should go away quickly.
A finger prick test is conducted by pricking your fingertip with a device that contains a small needle to obtain a few drops of blood.
After the test
Once your blood is drawn, the elastic band is removed, and the site of the blood draw is bandaged. No special precautions or restrictions are recommended after receiving a PSA blood test. After you are tested, you can drive and do daily activities as usual.
PSA Test Results
Receiving test results
Once your blood sample is taken, it is sent to a laboratory for analysis, so it may take several days to receive your results. Rapid PSA testing provides results in less than 15 minutes while you wait in the doctor’s office.
Interpreting test results
PSA test results should be interpreted with caution and under the guidance of a doctor. In understanding your test results, your doctor will consider a variety of factors, including your age, ethnicity, and medications you are taking. Additionally, doctors rarely make clinical decisions based on a single elevated PSA test result.
Rather, doctors may look for trends in your PSA level over time and look at other diagnostic results.
- Cancer screening: If you receive a high PSA result from a screening, your doctor may recommend follow-up tests to help diagnose the cause. Additional tests may include a urine test to check for a urinary tract infection and/or a physical exam of the prostate, called a digital rectal exam. Repeat PSA testing may be recommended to look for trends.
- Diagnosis: A high PSA result may also prompt a doctor to recommend a biopsy if they suspect cancer. But most people who are referred for a biopsy based on a high PSA level do not have cancer. Elevated PSA levels are more often a sign of non-cancerous conditions such as a urinary tract infection, prostatitis, or benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). These conditions are unrelated to prostate cancer.
- Monitoring and follow-up: It is important to talk to your doctor if you receive an elevated PSA test result during or after prostate cancer treatment. If you are currently undergoing treatment for prostate cancer, consistently elevated levels of PSA may indicate a need to reevaluate the treatment or that cancer has returned.
Some questions to ask your doctor include:
- How often should I have my PSA tested?
- Do I need follow-up testing if my PSA levels are high or rising?
- Are there other things that can cause my PSA to be above normal besides cancer?
- What does it mean if my PSA is high after I’ve already been treated for prostate cancer?