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What do screening test results showing an elevated PSA level or an abnormal DRE mean?

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A screening test result of elevated prostate-specific antigen level or an abnormal digital rectal exam can be a possible sign of prostate cancer, according to National Cancer Institute. However, other conditions can also lead to elevated PSA levels.

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Full Answer

If a man without prostate symptoms has an elevated PSA level and an abnormal DRE, his doctor may order tests to rule out a urinary tract infection, prostatitis or benign prostatic hyperplasia, reports National Cancer Institute. His doctor may also recommend further screening tests at regular intervals. Should the doctor suspect cancer, the next step is to order a biopsy.

Because some men can have elevated PSA levels but no cancer, and some men who have prostate cancer have lower PSA levels, there is no expert consensus on a normal level of PSA, states National Cancer Institute. As a result, some organizations have cautioned against routine screening of asymptomatic men. They claim the tests do more harm than good and may not successfully reduce the number of deaths from prostate cancer. Scientists hope to improve the PSA test so doctors may better distinguish between benign and cancerous conditions, such as determining age-specific ranges for PSA and the rate at which PSA increases over time.

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