The prostate-specific antigen blood test has long been used as the gold standard for detecting prostate cancer. Its high false positive rate, however, has led to this often lifesaving tool being taken off the table for routine screening. As some healthcare providers worry this change in screening recommendations may give rise to a higher rate undetected cancers going untreated, researchers in Canada have found a way to increase the reliability of PSA results.
The simple procedure being recommended by researchers in Ottawa involves nothing more than a repeat test. Their study has found that repeating the PSA before taking any action can reduce the amount of unnecessary biopsies performed by as much as 60 percent.
To arrive at those findings, researchers reviewed the records of 1,268 men who tested with an abnormally high PSA result. In 25 percent of these men, a second test returned with a normal result. About 28 percent of the men with conflicting results underwent biopsies compared with 62 percent of men who presented with two abnormal tests. Researchers also found that only 3 percent of men who had conflicting test results were diagnosed with cancer within a year as compared to 19 percent who had two abnormal test results.
The PSA offers great insights into the possible presence of prostate cancer. The test, however, isn’t without its faults. PSA results can rise due to error in the laboratory, a man’s physical activity level and even due to infections. When a single test is used to direct actions, false positives may lead to unnecessary, invasive procedures for men who find they do not have prostate cancer at all. The second test, researchers say, can be very important for helping obtain a more accurate gauge before further action is taken.
Men who are age 50 and older are urged to discuss prostate cancer screening with their healthcare providers. An estimated 220,000 American men are diagnosed with this disease every year. While the PSA is no longer used for routine screenings, the test is still available and, as researchers in Canada found out, can offer valuable insights.