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PSA test for prostate cancer

Routine health checks

The main treatments for prostate cancer have significant side effects and there is no certainty that treatment will be successful. But some people assume that if prostate cancer is diagnosed early it can be cured, and so gladly accept a PSA test when it is offered. 

Men sometimes refer to these tests as MOTs, in which cholesterol, blood pressure etc. are checked. Some men saw the PSA test as a natural element of these check-ups, although others pointed out that the PSA test is very different from the other routine tests, and should not be taken lightly (see 'Deciding whether or not to have the PSA test'). Some men assume the PSA test should be done when they reach 'a certain age'. 

 

He thought it would be a good idea to have a PSA test, and regarded it rather like having a...

He thought it would be a good idea to have a PSA test, and regarded it rather like having a...

Age at interview: 57
Sex: Male
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Yes well I, I've known about the PSA test, I've read articles about it and with differing opinions I should say about it's validity and reliability as a, as a diagnostic for early you know prostate cancer. And I'm 57 years old when I, I've read at various times that men in their 50s should have tests like this, that it's one of those things that you know you should get checked, a bit like your cholesterol and other things when you reach a certain age. So this year I thought, having had a discussion with one or two people including my wife, that perhaps I, you know I should have the test, really just on the basis of my age. I have no symptoms that would lead me to think that there was a problem so it wasn't a case of being concerned about some symptoms or being concerned about a possible illness, it was more just a case of well it's a time of your life when you should get these things tested. So, so I made an appointment, went in and had the test. It was all a very straightforward procedure, just a normal blood test really. And I had the results back subsequently which were fine, and you know so that have me some reassurance I guess about the fact that I'm okay. But so it was all quite a routine sort of procedure and there wasn't any particular feeling that I ought to have it again or at any other time.

Some companies offer PSA tests as part of a routine health check. 

 

His employer offered him a free health check with an optional PSA test.

His employer offered him a free health check with an optional PSA test.

Age at interview: 57
Sex: Male
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I was only dimly aware of prostate cancer in the past until my employer offered me a free health check, with an optional PSA test. I read the literature and decided that knowledge was a good thing, and that I wanted to take the PSA test which fortunately proved negative. There are clearly issues involved because of the nature of the treatment and the nature of the disease itself, which I gather is why there isn't screening for prostate cancer on a national basis. A couple of years later one of my colleagues at work had prostate cancer diagnosed as a result of this test, at an early stage, and clearly it was of benefit to him to know that he did suffer from it, it gave him time to asses the course of treatment that he wanted to pursue, which was fortunately successful. So basically my story is that I think prostate cancer testing is a good thing and I would encourage other people to undergo it if they have the opportunity.
 

There isn't a prostate cancer screening programme for men in the UK (see 'The pros and cons of a national screening programme for prostate cancer'), but it appears that some men also have PSA tests when they attend their GP's surgery for regular health checks. 

 

His thinks his GP did a PSA test as part of a routine 'check-up'. He had no symptoms.

His thinks his GP did a PSA test as part of a routine 'check-up'. He had no symptoms.

Age at interview: 66
Sex: Male
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My first test was given on the advice of my GP but he didn't tell me it was specifically called PSA he just explained that he was going to check my prostate. And I agreed to this and he gave me a digital rectal examination and then he said I also would need a blood test. He found the examination satisfactory but again he didn't say what the blood test would reveal in terms of PSA or anything else, he just

Was that because you had symptoms?

No I didn't have any symptoms at all, he purely offered it to me voluntarily as part of my check-up.

So you went along for a check-up. You asked for a check-up?

No, no I was having a general check-up for blood tests, cholesterol and other things and he said he would check my prostate at the same time. But again he didn't mention the word PSA so I was totally in his hands with regard to the reasoning behind the test.

So you had a PSA test without really knowing that you were having one?

Correct.

And he didn't give you any written information?

No

About the PSA?

No he didn't give me any information at all he just said it was a prostate check.

Did, are you sure that you had a PSA test the first time you had the medical in 2000? You said that the doctor said that everything was fine with your prostate? 

I wasn't sure no.

So you don't...

Because I didn't know what PSA was all about at that stage.

Did he mention the fact you'd had a blood test that would indicate if anything was wrong with your prostate?

He indicated to me that all was well but he didn't specifically say, 'Nothing is wrong with your prostate,' he just said the results of the blood test, all was well with regard to the prostate check.

One man we talked to had once lived in Canada. From the age of 30 he had had yearly 'physical examinations', including a digital rectal examination. When he moved to the UK he attended his local health centre for these yearly health checks and in 2004 his GP suggested he have a PSA test.

 

He had yearly digital rectal examinations when he lived in Canada. Recently his GP suggested a...

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He had yearly digital rectal examinations when he lived in Canada. Recently his GP suggested a...

Age at interview: 61
Sex: Male
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I first had a PSA blood test about a year ago. I went in as a matter of occasional course to have my prostate checked at my local health centre and the GP who I see there is the senior partner, suggested that rather than having an internal examination that I have the blood test, the PSA blood test which he said basically would give a fairly accurate result, from what I remember, although it wasn't an absolute 100% guarantee that the result would mean that I did not have prostate cancer but it would give a pretty good indication and would be better than having an internal examination where he would use his finger. So I said yeah okay fine. 

Did you have any symptoms at all?

No I didn't have any symptoms no.

You just decided you wanted to have your prostate checked?

Yeah when I reached aged 30, when I was in Canada, my local GP there, or the physician, he suggested that people over 30, men over 30, well it would be men really, should have a prostate check and I used to have one each year. I'd go in for a sort of annual physical check-up based on the fact that prevention was a good idea.

And that was digital rectal examining, it wasn't a PSA test in Canada at the time?

No, no it was digital and they say you know prevention is better than having to have a cure and I agreed with that and so each year while I was still in Canada I'd have a digital check and I had no problems, no symptoms but I'd rather catch it before symptoms arose yeah which I think is a good idea. And I think the very fact of having a general sort of medical MOT which is what I had and what he suggested I'd just go in each year and he checked my blood pressure etc etc and just cover off all the basics to try and catch them before symptoms occurred.

There's no prostate cancer in the family?

I don't think so.

No.

I mean I don't really know but my father didn't have it and I'm pretty sure my mother didn't [laughs].

You said, was it 20 years ago you were in Canada and you were having regular check-ups?

Yes.

Yes so what's suddenly triggered your request only last year, in 2004, to ask your GP for a prostate check up?

I'd had prostate check ups with my GP probably in 2003, 2002 may be 2001 but they were all digital.

Was that a different GP?

Same GP.

Oh I see.

Yeah and he then said, 'Well we don't need a digital this time, we have a blood test available.'

Last reviewed May 2016.

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