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If You're a Man over 40, Listen Up

Detecting prostate cancer is becoming easier, thanks to the PSA test

Nearly a quarter-million men develop prostate cancer each year, making it one of the most common cancers in men. The disease claims 40,000 lives annually because of difficulties in detecting the illness early. But that could change thanks to a blood test, known as the PSA test. It measures the amount of a protein in the blood called prostatic specific antigen, which is produced exclusively by the prostate.

The PSA test has been available for about eight years, but it is only now being widely recommended. Dr. William Catalona, Chief of Urology at Washington University School of Medicine and one of the PSA test's developers, highlights what men need to know about the disease and the test:

All men - especially African American men and men with a family history of prostate cancer - are at risk of developing prostate cancer. Having a vasectomy does not raise the risk. It is uncertain why the disease develops, but a high-fat diet may be a contributing factor.

There are no symptoms in men who are in the early stages of the disease when it is curable. But there will be urinary difficulties and bone pain as the disease progresses.

All men aged 40 and above should have an annual digital rectal exam as a safeguard against prostate cancer. African American men and those with a family history should also have an annual PSA test beginning at age 40. After age 50 all men should have an annual digital rectal exam and PSA test.

The PSA test is available in most doctors' offices and in hospital labs. It costs about $50 and takes a few days to a week for results to be reported. It is better in detecting prostate cancer than a mammography is in detecting breast cancer.

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Updated on October 8, 1995