Health experts are encouraging men to learn more about prostate cancer. Patients can discuss with their providers the risks and benefits of a prostate-specific antigen blood test, also known as a PSA test.

With more men forgoing an annual prostate exam, prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, scores across Arizona have been increasing, said officials with a Mesa-based mobile prostate cancer screening organization.

Many of the increases were seen in rural areas of the state where residents do not have ready access to medical specialists, such as an urologist, said Marla Zimmerman, chief executive officer of Prostate On-Site Project (POP).

Zimmerman was pleased that 70 men showed up to get screened for prostate cancer in Sierra Vista and Bisbee the first week in October. That’s when the POP mobile unit and its traveling urologist and phlebotomist were on hand to administer the exams in both areas.

But Zimmerman and Dr. Art Mollen, a Scottsdale-based physician she features on POP’s website, are warning men to get checked annually because putting it off a couple of years could prove risky.

“We’ve been seeing more men skipping a couple of years,” Zimmermann said. “Then the PSA scores get higher.”

According to the “ZERO — The End to Prostate Cancer” website, “PSA is a protein produced by prostate cells, which keeps semen in liquid form so that sperm can swim. A blood test can measure how much PSA is present in a man’s bloodstream. When a man has prostate cancer, his PSA level increases, which is why the PSA test is used as a screening tool. However, the levels of PSA can rise due to a number of reasons, including cancer. When PSA is elevated it is a warning sign that you should follow up on with your doctor.”

Too many men across the United States believe that they do not have to get screened for prostate cancer until they’re in their late 50s or 60s, said Zimmerman. In a video interview, Mollen said men should begin screening for prostate cancer by the time they hit 40.

“I’ve detected many prostate cancers in men in their 40s and 50s,” Mollen states in the video interview on the POP website. “In some men it may grow very slowly, in other men it may be very aggressive.

“Prostate cancer is a medical conundrum; a puzzle we don’t have all the answers to,” Mollen added. “It’s much more prevalent at an earlier age than men actually realize.”

Statistics released by POP show that both in Arizona and the rest of the U.S., prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death after skin cancer. Zimmerman said the disease fluctuates and affects between 1-5 to 1-7 men across the country.

In Arizona, roughly 3,500 new cases of prostate cancer surface annually, the POP website shows. That translates to about 550 deaths a year.

Many of the PSA score spikes were seen in the rural parts of Arizona, Zimmerman said.

“In the rural areas of the state most people do not have access to (medical) specialists,” Zimmerman said.

She also mentioned that a lot of men may have set aside their annual prostate cancer screening after negative publicity about the exams was disseminated in 2012 by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. The latter said that “the harms that resulted from PSA testing, such as unnecessary biopsies and negative treatment side effects, outweighed the benefits of finding and managing the disease early,” the “ZERO — The End to Prostate Cancer” website shows.

Zimmerman said she is grateful that in all the areas where the POP mobile unit visits in the state, men are getting tested.

“We’re very thankful that men do come out and get screened,” Zimmerman said. “We’re saving lives.”

The POP exams cost $81 and include a PSA test, a blood draw and a digital rectal exam.

If you or a loved one are interested in learning more about POP or where the mobile unit will be appearing, please call 480-964-3013, or 800-828-6139.

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