Even I thought I may have been overreacting to the change in my PSA, and that I may simply be embarrassing myself spouting off the way I have. Still, it’s better to vent and look silly than ignore the potential problem.
Of course, I had to continue my research, and the more I dug, the more I learned, and the more I began to believe that I may not be overreacting at all.
In this instant Internet information age, it’s easy to find tons of material. In my Month 58 – Welcome to PSA Anxiety post, I quoted a Dr. Chan from Johns Hopkins University:
On a technical level, in the laboratory, Chan trusts the sensitivity of assays down to 0. 1, or slightly less than that. “You cannot reliably detect such a small amount as 0.01,” he explains. “From day to day, the results could vary — it could be 0.03, or maybe even 0.05” — and these “analytical” variations may not mean a thing. “It’s important that we don’t assume anything or take action on a very low level of PSA. In routine practice, because of these analytical variations from day to day, if it’s less than 0. 1, we assume it’s the same as nondetectable, or zero.”
On closer examination and research, though, that quote came from early 2000, over 15 years ago. There have been advances in technology in 15 years. Lesson learned: Even though the information came from a trusted source, it may not be the most current. Read the dates!
There have been subsequent studies by UCLA and even Johns Hopkins that suggest that today’s ultrasensitive PSA tests (uPSA) are more reliable and can, in fact, be good predictors of biochemical recurrence (BCR).
From one article on the Prostate Cancer Infolink website:
Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) looked at available evidence that the uPSA test might afford radiation oncologists the opportunity to treat patients late enough that they are assured to be on a path to clinical recurrence, yet early enough that waiting for treatment does no oncological harm. Kang et al.conducted a retrospective analysis of data from 247 patients treated at UCLA between 1991 and 2013 who were found on post-op pathology to have aggressive disease characteristics — stage pT3-4 disease and/or positive surgical margins — and who received uPSA tests….
Kang et al. found that a uPSA ≥ 0.03 ng/ml was the optimal threshold value for predicting biochemical recurrence (BCR). Other findings included:
- uPSA ≥ 0.03 ng/ml was the most important and reliable predictor of BCR. It predicted all relapses (no false negatives: no one was under-treated), and hardly ever predicted relapses incorrectly. Only 2 percent would be over-treated by waiting for this cut-off.
- It was especially prognostic if found on the first uPSA test after surgery.
- Even if the first uPSA test was undetectable, any subsequent test where uPSA ≥ 0.03 ng/ml predicted BCR.
- Other lesser predictors of recurrence were pathologic Gleason grade, pathologic T stage, initial PSA before surgery, and surgical margin status.
- At 5 years of follow-up, 46 percent of patients had a BCR using the “standard” PSA ≥ 0.2 definition, 76 percent using the PSA ≥ 0.03 definition.
- Treating when an ultrasensitive PSA level reached 0.03 ng/ml gave a median lead time advantage of 18 months over waiting until PSA reached 0.2 ng/ml.
- It was necessary to monitor PSA for at least 5 years post-op, and to test at least every 6 months.
That study used the histories of men with aggressive prostate cancer; mine was not. I didn’t have positive margins and my tumor was classified T2c, so perhaps these findings are less applicable to me. Still, the line:
Even if the first uPSA test was undetectable, any subsequent test where uPSA ≥ 0.03 ng/ml predicted BCR.
…is something that I definitely want to talk to the urologist about given that I’m at 0.05 ng/mL. But I’m not going to get too worked up about it (I hope), because the Johns Hopkins study seemed to be broader in scope with less scary results. However, both studies seem to indicate that the 0.03 ng/mL can be a threshold for predicting BCR.
On the other hand, Walsh writes:
Radiation also was not likely to help men who had negative surgical margins. “This is logical,” explains the Johns Hopkins radiation oncologist Danyy Y. Song, “because patients with negative margins whose PSA persists after surgery are more likely to have residual disease outside of the prostatic bed, as opposed to those whose margins were positive at surgery, where disease is likely to remain in the area.” (and thus can be targeted with radiation).
I had negative surgical margins, so this can take the discussion with the urologist in a entirely different direction. Another question for the list.
I know that all this research in advance of the meeting with the urologist is a form of self-inflicted torture causing anxiety, frustration, and confusion. But I’d rather ensure that I’m knowledgeable than go into the meeting with my head in the sand. Knowledge is power.
The bottom line: I’m going to keep researching and learning (with a critical eye and more than a grain of salt). If, in the end, I’m proven that I overreacted and had nothing to fear, then I’ll be happily embarrassed and a bit smarter about uPSAs and biochemical prostate cancer recurrence.
On the other hand, if God forbid, I do have to journey down the BCR path, I’ll be steps ahead of the game and can advocate for myself with my medical team.
Is it Tuesday yet???