November 14, 2018

PSA: How to Prevent Prostate Cancer and the Importance of Catching it Early

PSA: How to Prevent Prostate Cancer and the Importance of Catching it Early

By John Burns, MD

November, also known as MOvember, is the month we recognize men’s health. Does that explain the more than usual amount of “Mos,” or mustaches?

Movember started in 2003 as a challenge for a few men to grow out their mustaches in an attempt to bring back a style pioneered by the likes of Tom Selleck and many others. Since then, this challenge has morphed to become a worldwide movement, focusing on raising awareness and funds for many important men’s health issues, such as prostate cancer.

One in 9 men in the United States will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in his lifetime. As someone who specializes in prostate cancer, I frequently interact with people who are not aware of this important issue and how to prevent it. For this reason, I have listed some of the most common questions I get about prostate cancer to help raise awareness.

What is PSA?

Prostate specific antigen, or PSA, is a blood test that is used to screen for prostate cancer in combination with a digital rectal exam. This screening is most commonly performed in the primary care office to assess a man’s risk for prostate cancer.

Should I get a PSA test?

Evidence shows that PSA screenings for prostate cancer in men age 55-69 saves lives. Some younger men may benefit under certain circumstances (i.e., men with a family history of prostate cancer or African American men) and occasionally some older men as well. The benefit of screening is to detect the lethal forms of prostate cancer at an early stage when it can be treated and hopefully cured.

Don’t most men with prostate cancer usually also suffer from something else?

Yes. In fact, half of prostate cancers diagnosed with PSA today are the “good kind,” meaning they’re low risk and can be watched by a process called active surveillance. This is great news! Remember though, up to half of men who go onto active surveillance end up receiving treatment due to cancer progression or other factors, highlighting the importance of regular follow up with your doctor.

If most men die with prostate cancer and not from it, why should I get my PSA checked?

Prostate cancer is abundant. While there are many men who have the low-risk variety, many men are at risk for the more fatal form. Don’t forget, prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in men in the US and one in 41 men will die of prostate cancer.

If we catch the lethal form of prostate cancer early and treat it, we can save lives.

To put it into context, before we had the PSA test, there wasn’t a good way to find lethal prostate cancer early. Most men presented with advanced stage prostate cancer, and only 4 percent of men at that time were able to be cured.  Now, 80-90 percent of men who are diagnosed and treated early can be cured!

I hope this Q and A helps with some of the common questions surrounding prostate cancer and prevention. This Movember, I encourage you to grow your Mo and help raise awareness for prostate cancer prevention!

John Burns, MD, is a urologic oncologist at Mission Urology.

To learn more about urology services at Mission Health, visit or call Mission Urology at 828-254-8883.