One of the most common threats to men’s health is prostate cancer. The disease attacks the prostate and often progresses very slowly, in most cases remaining only within the gland. However, there are some cases where it has become more aggressive, replicating very quickly and spreading to other parts of the body. Once the cancer reaches that stage it can be very difficult and sometimes impossible to treat.
The key to dealing with prostate cancer therefore will depend largely on the varying degrees of the disease, its spread, and the extent of its symptoms. To best determine a course of treatment, doctors usually rely on a PSA level chart by age.
Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA)
One of the roles of the prostate is to produce a protein called the prostate-specific antigen (PSA). To diagnose prostate cancer, a doctor will test a blood sample and measure the amount of PSA in it. A man with a large amount of PSA in his blood will be diagnosed with prostate cancer whereas if you have only a small quantity of PSA in your blood you will be declared cancer free.
This therefore is an extremely important test to take. However, the explanation is a bit oversimplified. There are some conditions that may cause the prostate to produce more PSA than the body needs that have nothing to do with cancer. Because of this, the PSA test has to be more refined.
Although these levels will vary from one person to the next based on a number of factors, some doctors feel that age is an important factor for distinguishing the differences. According to Harvard Medical School Charts, the normal PSA ranges by age are:
- Age 40-40: 0-2.5 ng/mL
- Age 50-59: 0-3.5 ng/mL
- Age 60-69: 0-4.5 ng/mL
- Age 70+: 0-6.5 ng/mL
It is important to note that even though the PSA level chart by age is commonly used in cases of prostate cancer there is some controversy surrounding it. While many physicians do agree that it is a reliable means of measuring protein some believe that in order to get a definitive diagnosis other factors must also be considered. A high PSA level does not have to indicate prostate cancer because the increased amount of protein could also come from other medical conditions like a urinary tract infection, prostatitis, recent prostate biopsy or surgery, medications, ethnicity, the size of the prostate, and a few others. For this reason, many doctors hesitate to accept the results of the PSA level chart by age as the sole determinant for diagnosing prostate cancer.
How the Test Works:
The primary purpose of the PSA test is to measure the amount of this protein in the blood. The results are usually measured and recorded in nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL). While 4ng/mL is considered normal, this number must be adjusted based on the age of the patient. The test is considered to be one of the most efficient ways for diagnosing prostate cancer, tracking its progression, and observing how a patient is responding to treatment.
The Stages of Prostate Cancer:
For this reason, many doctors opt to use the PSA level chart by age as a baseline and then alter the results based on the other factors. They realize that it requires more than protein to determine the presence of cancer. To that end, they use the age chart to determine the possibility of cancer and then use the results of other tests to make an official diagnosis.
Once diagnosis is made, it is then necessary to determine what stage is the cancer. Prostate cancer is divided up into four stages depending on how advanced the disease may be. Whether a cancer is stage one or stage four will depend on the size of the tumor, the number of lymph nodes involved, and whether or not it has metastasized or spread to other parts of the body.
Here, the PSA levels can also be used to determine how advanced the cancer is. At stage 1, the patient must have a Gleason score (this test compares the cancer cells to healthy cells and then scores them to determine progression) that falls below 6 and a PSA score of 10 or lower. At this stage, the cancer has not spread and is located only on one half of the prostate.
Stage 2 is divided into two parts. In Stage 2A, the tumor is still located in only one side of the prostate but the Gleason score is still high. The PSA levels however are high but are still less than 20 ng/mL. In Stage 2B, the tumor is beginning to spread. It has now spread to the opposite side of the prostate with a Gleason score of 8 and a PSA score of 20 or more.
At the third and fourth stages the cancer is very advanced. At this point, the extent of the cancer goes beyond the need of either the PSA or the Gleason scores because the cancer is no longer contained in the prostate and has begun to spread to other organs in the body. Once this happens, doctors must track the cancer with the use of CT scans, MRIs, and PET scans. In some cases biopsies may also be necessary.
When it comes to the use of PSA scores there will always be controversy over its practicality. Some doctors say that it does nothing to prevent, or help in the treatment of prostate cancer while other doctors prefer to use it alongside other testing. The test itself is not harmful so it is always best to discuss your test options with your primary care physician. If they have any personal concerns relating to your test scores always keep in mind that a back-up test to determine the presence of cancer is always a good option.
No one wants to hear the news that they might have cancer but with all the testing available there is no reason why many people would not opt to take the test anyway. It can be a great way to point out danger signs and act accordingly.