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Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) Test

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What is the test?

A man’s prostate produces a protein called "prostate-specific antigen" that can be measured in the blood. Some diseases, including prostate cancer, cause the prostate to make a larger quantity of this protein. By measuring prostate-specific antigen levels in your bloodstream, doctors may be able to find prostate cancers in their early stages.

Doctors still disagree about whether it is a good idea for all men to have this test done after they turn 50. One reason is that many prostate cancers that are found by the PSA test are destined to remain tiny areas inside the prostate gland, never to spread and cause medical problems. Discovering such cancers can cause great anxiety, if a man chooses to have no treatment for them. If a man opts for treatment, he may suffer the possible side-effects of treatment (such as loss of sexual function, or leakage of urine) in order to treat a cancer that would never have grown and spread.

At the same time, detecting cancers that are destined to spread at an early stage can be life-saving. Doctors are working hard on techniques that will distinguish those prostate cancers that are destined to spread, and those that are not. You should definitely discuss with your doctor the pros and cons of having this test done before you proceed.

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How do I prepare for the test?

There is no special preparation for this test, but to avoid having an artificially high test level you should not have sexual intercourse for a day before your test. Tell your doctor if you are taking any medicines, especially medicines for the prostate, since these may affect the way the doctor interprets the results of your test.

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What happens when the test is performed?

A sample of your blood will be drawn from a vein. The level of prostate-specific antigen in your blood will be measured in the laboratory.

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What risks are there from the test?

There are no risks from this test. As mentioned, however, this test can leave you with some difficult choices if it is abnormal.

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Must I do anything special after the test is over?

You can return to normal activities.

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How long is it before the result of the test is known?

Results from this test take several days to come back. Your doctor will have to decide whether the test level is normal for you by taking your age and other factors into consideration.

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