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Improving prostate cancer screening for transgender women is needed, stresses study

If they are taking estrogen, transgender women who develop prostate cancer wouldn’t see their PSA rise to levels that trigger additional screening until their cancer was at a later stage, making it more difficult to treat.

Photo by Alina Scheck from Unsplash.com

Transgender women are still at risk for prostate cancer. And yet current screening guidelines could miss early-stage prostate cancer in transgender women on hormone therapy.

This is according to a study – “Prostate-Specific Antigen Values in Transgender Women on Estrogen” by said Stephen Freedland, Farnoosh Nik-Ahd, Amanda M. De Hoedt, Christi Butler, Jennifer T. Anger, Peter R. Carroll, and Matthew R. Cooperberg – that was published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The prostate, a small gland that helps make semen, also produces a protein called prostate-specific antigen, or PSA. Blood levels of PSA tend to be elevated in people who have prostate cancer, and the PSA test, which measures those levels, is a common prostate cancer screening tool.

According to current guidelines, PSA levels above 4.0 nanograms per milliliter of blood (ng/mL) suggest cancer could be present, and that additional investigation, such as a prostate biopsy, is needed.

In the study, the researchers used Veterans Health Administration records to identify 210 transgender women without known prostate cancer who were taking estrogen,.

Said Nik-Ahd, first author of the study: “We found that the median PSA value, the midpoint in the range of participants, was 0.02 ng/mL, which is fiftyfold lower than PSA values reported in similar-aged cisgender men.”

This suggests that if they are taking estrogen, transgender women who develop prostate cancer wouldn’t see their PSA rise to levels that trigger additional screening until their cancer was at a later stage, making it more difficult to treat. Nik-Ahd said that patients and clinicians should be aware of this and interpret results with caution.

Additional research is needed to pinpoint a specific PSA level that indicates a transgender woman taking estrogen is at high risk for developing prostate cancer. And Freedland, who is also a professor of Urology at Cedars-Sinai and staff physician at the Durham VA Medical Center in North Carolina, said this study is not a call for transgender women to be screened.

“We know that PSA screening reduces the risk that cisgender men ages 55 to 69 will die of prostate cancer, but we don’t know that it does the same thing for transgender women taking estrogen,” Freedland said. “However, because some of these women are being screened, we want to raise awareness that their typical PSA levels are different.”

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“Don’t forget that you have a prostate and that prostates can become cancerous,” Freedland said. “The best way we know to find those cancers early and reduce the risk of death is a PSA test. And if you choose to do that, keep in mind that the test values are not calibrated for you. Bring your results—and possibly this study—to your urologist so that your results will be interpreted by someone who understands what to do with that information.”

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