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The PCA3 test for prostate cancer

The PCA3 test is a new type of test that may help to diagnose prostate cancer. There is information below about


What PCA3 is

PCA3 is short for Prostate CAncer gene 3. Prostate cells have PCA3 genes that make the cells produce a small amount of a particular protein. Prostate cancer cells make much more of this protein than normal cells. When the level of PCA3 protein is high, it leaks into the urine.

Researchers have been checking whether they can use PCA3 protein to diagnose prostate cancer. There have been several trials looking at whether PCA3 testing might be helpful for prostate cancer. But we don’t yet know exactly how well the test may work.


Diagnosing prostate cancer

At the moment, men with symptoms of prostate cancer have a number of tests to find out if they have cancer. The tests include a PSA (prostate specific antigen) blood test and a rectal examination.

A PSA test is not a very accurate test for prostate cancer. Some men with a high level of PSA in the blood have prostate cancer. But some men who have prostate cancer have a low PSA level. And PSA levels can also be raised by several other medical conditions not related to cancer.

So, if you have a raised PSA, you need more tests to find out if you have prostate cancer. Usually, this means a biopsy of the prostate gland. Many men with raised levels of PSA who have biopsies don’t have cancer. Some men who continue to have raised PSA levels need to keep having biopsies. This isn’t very pleasant to go through and repeated biopsies can cause complications in some men.

To avoid having to do prostate biopsies, researchers have been trying to find a more specific test to show who has cancer and who doesn’t. They hope that a simple PCA3 urine test may be able to pick up prostate cancers.


Research into PCA3

Research so far into PCA3 looks quite promising. It seems as though it may be able to pick up more cancers than the PSA test. But we need more research to find exactly how much PCA3 in the urine is a sign of prostate cancer. The PCA3 test isn’t yet accurate enough to be used on its own as a test for prostate cancer. It is more likely to be used as well as a PSA test, to help your doctor decide whether you need a prostate biopsy.


How you have the PCA3 test

The test is in two parts. You have a rectal examination and then a urine test.

You need to have a rectal examination because this massages the prostate gland and helps the PCA3 to go into the urine. You have to give the urine sample straight after the rectal examination. You normally get the results within a few days.

The PCA3 test is not available through the NHS at the moment. It is being assessed by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). It is available in a few private hospitals and clinics. The cost is between £300 and £400. You could talk to your doctor about whether it is an option for you.

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Updated: 17 March 2014