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How does a PSA test relate to prostate cancer?

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Quick Answer

An elevated prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, test result can indicate a higher chance that prostate cancer is present, even if there are no other symptoms present. A continuous rise in PSA levels over time is also associated with a likelihood of prostate cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.

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Full Answer

If a screening test shows an elevated PSA level, the patient's doctor may recommend more PSA tests, accompanied by digital rectal examinations. These are scheduled at regular intervals so the doctor can watch for changes over a period of time. If the PSA level continues to rise, the doctor may schedule an ultrasound, X-ray or cystoscopy, states the National Cancer Institute. If the doctor suspects prostate cancer is present, a biopsy is scheduled to examine tissue samples.

Elevated PSA results are also caused by benign conditions such as an enlarged prostate or a urinary tract infection. The PSA test can also give false-positive or false-negative results. Only about 25 percent of men who have biopsies due to elevated PSA tests actually have prostate cancer. In addition, low PSA results do not guarantee that prostate cancer is not present. It is possible to have prostate cancer and still have low levels of PSA, reports the National Cancer Institute.

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