Objective: To evaluate prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing intervals that maintain the detection of curable cancer and reduce unnecessary testing.
Design and patients: Historical prospective study of serial PSA measurements at 2- and 4-year intervals from frozen serum samples of 40 men who eventually developed prostate cancer and 272 men without prostate cancer who were participants in a prospective aging study (Gerontology Research Center of the National Institute on Aging, the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging) and the case series of 389 consecutive men treated surgically for nonpalpable prostate cancer.
Main outcome measures: Probability of a PSA conversion to 4.1 to 5.0 ng/mL and to greater than 5.0 ng/mL at 2 and 4 years and probability of detecting curable prostate cancer by age and PSA level.
Results: When the pretreatment PSA level was less than or equal to 4.0 ng/mL, nonpalpable prostate cancers were highly likely (34/36, 94%) to be curable (organ-confined or capsular penetration with Gleason score < 7 and negative margins), and the majority (25/36, 69%) were small cancers (confined tumor < or = 0.5 cm3 with no Gleason pattern 4 or 5). When the pretreatment PSA level was greater than 4.0 ng/mL and less than or equal to 5.0 ng/mL, cancers were highly likely to be curable (32/36, 89%), and a minority were small cancers (12/36, 33%). When the pretreatment PSA level was greater than 5.0 ng/mL, 96 (30%) of 317 cancers were noncurable. The PSA conversion (for cancer cases) to a level at which cure is less likely (> 5.0 ng/mL) is rare (0%) after 2 or 4 years when the initial PSA is less than 2.0 ng/mL. PSA conversion to a range at which cancers are likely to be curable and less likely to be small (4.1-5.0 ng/mL) is rare after 2 years (0%-4%) when the baseline PSA level is less than 2.0 ng/mL but common when the baseline PSA level is between 2.1 and 3.0 ng/mL (27%) or 3.1 and 4.0 ng/mL (36%).
Conclusions: These data suggest that for men with no cancer suspected on digital rectal examination, a PSA level of 4.0 to 5.0 ng/mL is an acceptable range for maintaining the detection of curable prostate cancer and a 2-year PSA testing interval is not likely to miss a curable prostate cancer when the initial PSA level is less than 2.0 ng/mL. Recognizing that 70% of a screened population between the ages of 50 years and 70 years have PSA levels less than 2.0 ng/mL, elimination of annual PSA testing for these men would result in large health care cost savings.