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[Note: Main image was taken at Kettering Cancer Center in 2017.]
Consider this a PSA (public service announcement) to men for another kind of PSA: a prostate-specific antigen.
A protein created by the prostate gland and prostate cancer, prostate-specific antigen (PSA) can be tested—and can signal the potential for prostate cancer.
Dr. E. Ronald Hale, medical director for Radiation Oncology with Kettering Health, sees PSA tests as a vital tool to help men stay proactive about their health.
The smoke detector for prostate cancer
Dr. Hale advises men who turn 40 to have conversations with their primary care physician about prostate screenings. And by 45 years old, every man should be receiving a prostate screening.
“Screening means either performing a PSA test often with a digital rectal exam, or at least having a discussion with the primary care provider regarding prostate cancer screening.”
When men need to begin scheduling screenings, a PSA test is a crucial one. And Dr. Hale suggests that these tests are to cancer prevention what smoke detectors are to fire safety.
“Testing for PSA is similar to the concept of having a smoke detector in the house,” says Dr. Hale. “It simply alerts you to the possibility of trouble.”
A PSA test measures the PSA level in the blood. If a man’s PSA level goes up, and continues to rise, it may indicate an increased risk for prostate cancer. In the way a smoke detector signals the signs of a potential fire, a PSA test signals the signs of what could be prostate cancer.
What to do if there’s “smoke”
Smoke doesn’t always equal fire, and a high PSA level (especially shown from one screening) doesn’t always mean cancer.
But just because the smoke alarm went off when you fried bacon doesn’t mean you don’t keep the fire alarms in your home: having them is always safer than not.
In the same way, just because one high PSA level doesn’t definitively indicate cancer doesn’t mean men should stop scheduling follow-up screenings.
As Dr. Hale says, “PSA that is elevated does not mean there is a cancer diagnosis but rather a condition that needs to be investigated. Similarly, a smoke detector that sounds an alarm may be a false alarm or, in fact, may be an indicator that there is a fire.”
To be sure, Dr. Hale says men should have both a PSA test and a digital rectal exam. Together, these tests can help a physician know what steps a patient should take.
“Depending on those results, a biopsy may be required,” says Dr. Hale. “If a biopsy indicates the presence of cancer, the healthiest response is to seek input both from a urologic surgeon in addition to a radiation oncologist.”
A moment of prevention can equal years of health
An important thing for men to know, says Dr. Hale, is that not every occurrence of prostate cancer leads to aggressive treatment methods.
“There are many forms of prostate cancer that do not require treatment but rather diligent observation,” says Dr. Hale.
And if diagnosed, there are “both surgical and nonsurgical treatment methods that are thought to be equally effective.”
Regardless, the one response men should avoid when it comes to their health and their prostate is apathy.
“Detecting prostate cancer at an earlier time can improve the ability to cure the cancer with fewer side effects. Waiting long enough to treat prostate cancer can often lead to a diagnosis of metastatic disease or otherwise known as stage IV cancer, which is generally thought to be incurable.”
In other words, men, don’t wait. A moment of prevention may mean years of future health.