Acid Phosphatase Test
Acid phosphatase is an enzyme found throughout the body, but primarily in the prostate gland. Like all enzymes, it is needed to trigger specific chemical reactions. Acid phosphatase testing is done to diagnose whether prostate cancer has spread to other parts of the body (metastasized), and to check the effectiveness of treatment. The test has been largely supplanted by the prostate specific antigen test (PSA).
The male prostate gland has 100 times more acid phosphatase than any other body tissue. When prostate cancer spreads to other parts of the body, acid phosphatase levels rise, particularly if the cancer spreads to the bone. One-half to three-fourths of persons who have metastasized prostate cancer have high acid phosphatase levels. Levels fall after the tumor is removed or reduced through treatment.
Tissues other than prostate have small amounts of acid phosphatase, including bone, liver, spleen, kidney, and red blood cells and platelets. Damage to these tissues causes a moderate increase in acid phosphatase levels.
Acid phosphatase is very concentrated in semen. Rape investigations will often include testing for the presence of acid phosphatase in vaginal fluid.
This is not a screening test for prostate cancer. Acid phosphatase levels rise only after prostate cancer has metastasized.
Laboratory testing measures the amount of acid phosphatase in a person's blood, and can determine from what tissue the enzyme is coming. For example, it is important to know if the increased acid phosphatase is from the prostate or red blood cells. Acid phosphatase from the prostate, called prostatic acid phosphatase (PAP), is the most medically significant type of acid phosphatase.
Subtle differences between prostatic acid phosphatase and acid phosphatases from other tissues cause them to react differently in the laboratory when mixed with certain chemicals. For example, adding the chemical tartrate to the test mixture inhibits the activity of prostatic acid phosphatase but not red blood cell acid phosphatase. Laboratory test methods based on these differences reveal how much of a person's total acid phosphatase is derived from the prostate. Results are usually available the next day.
This test requires drawing about 5-10 mL of blood. The patient should not have a rectal exam or prostate massage for two to three days prior to the test.
Discomfort or bruising may occur at the puncture site, and the person may feel dizzy or faint. Applying pressure to the puncture site until the bleeding stops will reduce bruising. Warm packs to the puncture site will relieve discomfort.
Normal results vary based on the laboratory and the method used.
The highest levels of acid phosphatase are found in metastasized prostate cancer. Diseases of the bone, such as Paget's disease or hyperparathyroidism; diseases of blood cells, such as sickle cell disease or multiple myeloma; or lysosomal disorders, such as Gaucher's disease, will show moderately increased levels.
Certain medications can cause temporary increases or decreases in acid phosphatase levels. Manipulation of the prostate gland through massage, biopsy, or rectal exam before a test can increase the level.
A Manual of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests. 5th ed. Ed. Francis Fishback. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1996.
Garza, Diana, and Kathleen Becan-McBride. Phlebotomy Handbook. 4th ed. Stamford: Appleton & Lange, 1996.
Moul, Judd W., et al. "The Contemporary Value of Pretreatment Prostatic Acid Phosphatase to Predict Pathological Stage and Recurrence in Radical Prostatectomy Cases." Journal of Urology (Mar. 1998): 935-940.
Nancy J. Nordenson
Enzyme—A substance needed to trigger specific chemical reactions.
Metastasize—Spread to other parts of the body; usually refers to cancer.
Prostate gland—A gland of the male reproductive system.