Roy Hanners discovered he had a problem with his prostate after a blood test last November.
"We first discovered that there might be a problem when elevated PSA levels were 9," he said.
A PSA (Prostate-Specific Antigen Test) of nine is high for anybody. A biopsy showed it was cancer. Since PSA blood tests were first used in the late 1980s, doctors interpreted PSA results the same way.
"They said, 'OK, anybody who has a PSA number of less than 4.0 was normal and anybody who had a PSA greater than 4 was abnormal,'" said Dr. Judd Moul, chief urologist at Duke.
Moul led a study looking at the PSA results of 12,000 men over time. His research shows those PSA results should be interpreted based on age. A man in his 40s should have a lower PSA number than a man in his 70s.
Moul said a single PSA test result does not tell you all you need to know.
"Measuring the rate of change of PSA over time is just as important as the absolute number itself," he said.
The rate of change, if there's a problem, is slower for younger men compared to older men, so someone like 54-year-old Roy Hanners, who only remembers getting a PSA test for the first time last year should have received one year earlier.
New recommendations say black men should begin prostate screening with both a digital rectal exam and PSA blood tests by age 40. Moul said that is a good age to start for every man, regardless of race.
Hanner had his prostate removed a week ago. He recommends others get the PSA test and digital rectal exam sooner than he did, so the treatment might be less drastic.
Moul will present his study Friday at a Prostate Cancer Symposium in San Francisco.