Getting your PSA test results

There isn’t a single normal PSA level for all men. The level naturally gets higher as you get older. PSA levels also vary with the size of your prostate gland.

Common prostate problems can raise PSA levels. These include benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and prostatitis. The level of PSA in the blood can also be raised by infections, ejaculation, exercise and other factors. Some drugs can also affect the levels.

If your results are considered normal, you are unlikely to have cancer and won’t need more tests. If you have a raised PSA level you may need more tests. A high PSA level does not always mean you have prostate cancer. There are still questions about how reliable PSA testing is. When deciding if you need further tests, your doctor will consider:

  • your PSA level and whether anything could have affected it
  • how your prostate feels
  • your personal risk of prostate cancer
  • your general health.

Your doctor may talk to you about having a sample of tissue taken from your prostate (a biopsy).

What is a normal PSA level?

Your doctor may use the term ‘normal PSA level’. But there isn’t a single normal PSA level for all men, as the level naturally gets higher as you get older. The level also varies with the size of your prostate gland. The size is different from man to man and the gland also gets bigger with age.

Your doctor will tell you what they think the normal level of PSA should be for you. They generally use these levels:

  • For men in their 50s, a PSA level of up to 3 nanograms per millilitre of blood (3ng/ml).
  • For men in their 60s, a PSA level of up to 4ng/ml.
  • For men in their 70s, a PSA level of up to 5ng/ml.
  • There are no PSA level limits for men aged 80 and over.

What can affect the PSA level?

As men get older, the level of PSA in the blood rises slowly. It may also be raised by some common prostate problems or by cancer in the prostate. The level of PSA in the blood can also be raised by:

  • infections
  • ejaculation
  • some types of exercise, such as long-distance running or cycling
  • having a urinary catheter (a tube to drain urine)
  • receiving prostate stimulation
  • having a digital rectal examination (DRE)
  • prostate or bladder surgery
  • having a prostate biopsy.

These may raise the PSA level for a short time. Your doctor can give you advice about how long you may have to wait for the level to come back down if you decide to have the PSA test.

Some drugs can lower the PSA level in your blood, for example finasteride (Proscar®) and dutasteride (Avodart®, Combodart®). These drugs are taken to help with urinary symptoms caused by an enlarged prostate gland.

If you have the PSA test, it’s important to let your GP or nurse know about any medicines you’re taking. This includes any over-the-counter drugs, complementary therapies or herbal drugs.


What happens after the PSA test?

What happens next depends on the results of the PSA test and the DRE, if you have one.

If both the PSA level and the DRE are normal, no further action is needed.

If your PSA is higher than normal (or the PSA level is normal but the DRE is not normal), your GP will refer you to see a specialist for a discussion about further tests. You will usually be seen within two weeks. Sometimes, your GP may check your PSA again before referring you to a specialist if the DRE is normal.

The specialist will talk you about your results and what will happen next. They may recheck your PSA level or do another DRE.

They will talk to you about:

  • your PSA level and whether anything could have raised it
  • how your prostate gland feels during a DRE
  • your personal risk of prostate cancer
  • your general health and any medical conditions you have.

After this, your specialist may talk to you about having a sample of tissue taken from your prostate (a biopsy). They will discuss the risks and benefits of this and help you make a decision.

If the biopsy shows that you have prostate cancer, there are ways of managing it. Your medical team can talk to you about your choices. You may find it helpful to read our information about prostate cancer, which includes more about having tests for prostate cancer.


How reliable is the PSA test?

There are still questions about how reliable PSA testing is. Two out of three men with a raised PSA level (66%) will not have any cancer cells in their prostate biopsy. But up to one in five men with prostate cancer (20%) will have a normal PSA test result. You will not be offered a biopsy based on only one PSA result.

If you’re finding it difficult to cope with the emotions caused by your test results, you can visit our online community. You can get support there from people who’ve been through similar experiences to you.

Back to PSA test

What is the PSA test?

The prostate specific antigen (PSA) test is a blood test that measures levels of PSA protein in the blood.