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The prostate gland manufactures a specific protein called prostate-specific antigen (PSA). While it is normal for men to have some PSA in their blood, certain conditions cause the level of PSA to rise. The PSA test takes a measurement of the PSA protein and determines if it is high enough to be cause for concern.
While prostate cancer can increase the level of PSA, benign prostate conditions can do the same. Conditions like prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate) and benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) (enlargement of the prostate) can also increase PSA levels, but do not necessarily indicate cancer.
While the PSA test on its own is not sufficient to diagnose prostate cancer, the PSA test together with a digital rectal exam has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Along with screening healthy men for cancer, the FDA recommends the PSA test to help determine if prostate cancer has recurred in men who have previously suffered from it. Although an abnormally high prostate PSA level does not always mean a recurrence of cancer, it can be an indicator.