Prostate specific antigen: a critical assessment of the most useful tumor marker for adenocarcinoma of the prostate

J Urol. 1991 May;145(5):907-23. doi: 10.1016/s0022-5347(17)38491-4.


PSA is a kallikrein-like, serine protease that is produced exclusively by the epithelial cells of all types of prostatic tissue, benign and malignant. Physiologically, it is present in the seminal fluid at high concentration and functions to cleave the high molecular weight protein responsible for the seminal coagulum into smaller polypeptides. This action results in liquefaction of the coagulum. PSA is also present in the serum and can be measured reliably by either a monoclonal immunoradiometric assay or a polyclonal radioimmunoassay. The calculated half-life of serum PSA ranges from 2.2 to 3.2 days and the metabolic clearance rate of this tumor marker follows first-order kinetics. Digital rectal examination, cystoscopic examination and prostate biopsy all can cause spurious elevations of the serum PSA concentration. Conditions such as bacterial prostatitis and acute urinary retention also can falsely elevate the serum PSA level. Because approximately 25% of the patients with BPH only will have an elevated serum PSA concentration and BPH tissue contributes to this PSA value in a variable manner from patient to patient, it is unlikely that PSA by itself will become an effective screening tool for the early diagnosis of prostate cancer. However, if combined with digital rectal examination and/or transrectal ultrasound it may become a vital part of any early detection program. Prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia also may be associated with moderately elevated serum PSA levels. Although there is a direct correlation between the serum PSA concentration and clinical stage, PSA is not sufficiently reliable to determine the clinical stage on an individual basis. This finding also applies to pathological stage. As a result, the preoperative serum PSA concentration cannot be used to decide whether to recommend radical prostatectomy for potential cure. Low preoperative serum PSA concentrations in patients with previously untreated prostate cancers are predictive of a negative bone scan. Thus, in these select patients a staging bone scintigram may not be necessary. With respect to monitoring patients after definitive therapy, PSA is an exquisitely sensitive tumor marker. Irrespective of the treatment modality (radical prostatectomy, radiation therapy or antiandrogen treatment), PSA reflects accurately the tumor status of the patient and is prognostic of eventual outcome; this tumor marker is capable of predicting tumor recurrence months before its detection by any other method. PSA is also a most useful immunocytochemical marker. Its sensitivity and specificity to identify tissue of prostatic origin approach 100%. When compared to PAP, PSA is a more precise and meaningful marker in all clinical situations.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acid Phosphatase / blood
  • Adenocarcinoma / diagnosis*
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Antigens, Neoplasm* / blood
  • Antigens, Neoplasm* / chemistry
  • Biomarkers, Tumor*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / methods
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Prostate / chemistry*
  • Prostate-Specific Antigen
  • Prostatic Hyperplasia / diagnosis
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / diagnosis*


  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Acid Phosphatase
  • Prostate-Specific Antigen