Background: The purpose of this study was to examine the diagnostic efficiency of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) and digital rectal examination (DRE) testing when using either 4.0 ng/ml or an age-specific reference range (ASRR) as an abnormal cutoff PSA value.
Methods: Between 1992-1995, 116,073 men, aged 40-79 years, were screened during Prostate Cancer Awareness Week. When using a 4.0-ng/ml cutoff PSA value, 22,014 had either an abnormal PSA, an abnormal DRE, or both. When using an ASRR cutoff PSA value, 17,561 had either an abnormal PSA, an abnormal DRE, or both. The positive predictive value (PPV), sensitivity, and specificity of PSA, DRE, and combined PSA and DRE tests were evaluated.
Results: When using a 4.0-ng/ml cutoff PSA value, the PPVs of abnormal PSA alone, abnormal DRE alone, and combined abnormal PSA and DRE tests were 27.7%, 17.7%, and 56.0%, respectively. Sensitivities were 34.9%, 27.1%, and 38.0%, respectively. Specificities were 63.1%, 49.0%, and 87.9%, respectively. When using an ASRR cutoff PSA value, the PPVs of each category were 31.8%, 20.8%, and 63.7%, respectively. Sensitivities were 27.1%, 41.0%, and 31.8%, respectively. Specificities were 75.0%, 32.8%, and 92.2%, respectively. The PPVs of the PSA test were higher than those of the DRE. The PPVs of combined tests were highest when using either a 4.0-ng/ml cutoff PSA value or an ASRR cutoff PSA value (all P < 0.001). When using an ASRR, the PPVs of PSA, DRE, and combined tests were higher than those when using a 4.0-ng/ml without statistical significance (all P > 0.05). Sensitivity of PSA when using an ASRR was lower than when using 4.0 ng/ml.
Conclusions: Significantly higher PPVs indicated that utilizing both a PSA test and a DRE is most effective in screening for the early detection of prostate cancer. Although higher PPVs when using an ASRR cutoff PSA value suggested fewer unnecessary biopsies, lower sensitivities resulted in fewer cancers detected. Thus, we recommend that the combination of a PSA test with a cutoff value of 4.0 ng/ml and a DRE should continue to be utilized in the screening programs.