What happens after an elevated PSA test: the experience of 13,591 veterans

J Gen Intern Med. 2010 Nov;25(11):1205-10. doi: 10.1007/s11606-010-1468-9. Epub 2010 Aug 10.


Background: The occurrence and timing of prostate biopsy following an elevated prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test varied considerably in randomized screening trials.

Objective: Examine practice patterns in routine clinical care in response to an elevated PSA test (≥4 ng/μl) and determine whether time to biopsy was associated with cancer stage at diagnosis.

Design: Retrospective cohort study.

Participants: All veterans (n=13,591) in the Pacific Northwest VA Network with a PSA ≥4 ng/μl between 1998 and 2006 and no previous elevated PSA tests or prostate biopsy.

Main measures: We assessed follow-up care including additional PSA testing, urology consults, and biopsies. We compared stage at diagnosis for men who were biopsied within 24 months vs. those men biopsied and diagnosed>24 months after the elevated PSA test.

Key results: Two-thirds of patients received follow-up evaluation within 24 months of the elevated PSA test: 32.8% of men underwent a biopsy, 15.5% attended a urology visit but were not biopsied, and 18.8% had a subsequent normal PSA test. Younger age, higher PSA levels, more prior PSA tests, no co-payment requirements, existing urologic conditions, low body mass index, and low comorbidity scores were associated with more complete follow-up. Among men who underwent radical prostatectomy, a delayed diagnosis was not significantly associated with having a pathologically advanced-stage cancer (T3/T4), although we found an increased likelihood of presenting with stage T2C relative to stage T2A or T2B cancer.

Conclusions: Follow-up after an elevated PSA test is highly variable with more than a third of men receiving care that could be considered incomplete. A delayed diagnosis was not associated with poorer prognosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Biopsy
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Prostate / pathology
  • Prostate-Specific Antigen / analysis*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / surgery
  • Racial Groups
  • Rural Population
  • United States
  • United States Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Urban Population
  • Veterans / statistics & numerical data*


  • Prostate-Specific Antigen