PSA (prostate specific antigen) blood tests are familiar routine for men over the age of40. This test is typically used as a screening tool for prostate cancer, and has helped countless men detect and treat their prostate cancer early. When treated early, the cure rate for prostate cancer is upwards of 95%. The purpose of this article, however, is not to discuss routine PSA screenings and early treatment, but what happens after preliminary treatment like robotic surgery and the removal of the prostate.
The answer is: very (important). A major milestone in prostate cancer treatment is obtaining your PSA level after surgery. The expected result after prostatectomy (removal of the prostate), is an undetectable PSA or level of 0. In some men, however, a PSA level above zero presents itself and this could mean a number of things, among them a return of their cancer.
According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, about 20-30% of men have PSA recurrence after five years of initial prostate cancer treatment (this includes both surgical intervention and radiation treatment). As a patient, the prospect of PSA recurrence can be very worrisome. What many patients do not know is that not all PSA recurrences are the same. Some types of recurrences are much more troublesome than others and treatment approaches can vary tremendously case by case.
Although PSA should be 0 after surgery, some patients are faced with one of two scenarios: PSA recurrence or PSA persistence.
PSA persistence is the detection of a PSA higher than 0 within the first three months after prostatectomy. The distinction is that the PSA has not recurred, but rather persisted after surgery. The key difference this small distinction makes is in the prediction of the course the disease will take. A persistent PSA can unfortunately mean the cancer has progressed and metastasized. In many cases the best course of secondary treatment is hormone therapy.
Unlike PSA persistence, PSA recurrence is characterized by a PSA of 0 postoperatively, and a rise in the blood test after an unspecified period of time. Traditionally the value of 0.2 has been used as the benchmark to indicate PSA recurrence. As previously noted, PSA recurrence can mean many different things in terms of the status of the prostate cancer. These different prognoses are based on several different factors, outlined below:
“Depending on these factors, secondary treatment (if needed) can be individualized to best manage the case at hand. Using the PSA in this way, can be crucial in mapping out a predicted course of the disease and helping patients manage their disease as best as possible. Some factor combinations could predict a localized, slow moving cancer – best treated and cured with radiation therapy by targeting the remaining prostate cells. Other factor combinations could predict aggressive, metastatic disease, in which case hormonal treatment may be the best treatment. Still in other cases, when evaluating all the aspects of the PSA and the patient, no treatment may be the best treatment”, says Dr. Samadi, Chairman of Department of Urology and Chief of Robotics at Lenox Hill Hospital.
And although experiencing a rise in PSA post prostatectomy can be frightening, all hope is not lost. Many reoccurrences are still manageable and a cure is possible with the right treatment plan. An important point to remember is that while radiation is possible secondary treatment after surgery, the opposite is not true. Surgery is rarely possible after radiation as primary treatment. For this reason, choosing the right initial treatment for prostate cancer is crucial in your long term care. Speak to your urologist about your specific risk factors if you have a PSA recurrence and map out the right course of treatment for you.