Who need this exam?
If you are 50 or older, yes. Sure, it is uncomfortable, maybe even a little embarrassing. But there is good reason to have it. The doctor will manually check your prostate, a walnut-sized gland that surrounds the duct connecting the bladder with the penis to look for signs of prostate cancer.
Men at particularly high risk of prostate cancer (including African Americans and anyone with prostate cancer in his family) should start being examined at age 40.
But that is not the only reason to have the exam. The doctor will also check to see if your prostate is enlarged, a common problem in men who are middle-aged or older. If you've noticed problems with urination, an urgent need to
relieve yourself, a weak stream or leaking, or unusually frequent urination, especially at night then you may
have an enlarged prostate that's blocking the urine flow from your bladder. If you think this could be the case,
call your doctor and set up the exam.
Usually painless, the digital rectal exam, or DRE, takes a minute or less (though it may seem longer). The doctor
will ask you to bend over or lie on your side; then he or she will insert a gloved, lubricated finger into your
anus and check the rear surface of the prostate for abnormalities. Hardness or a lump, for example, might be a
sign of prostate cancer.
Other tests for prostate cancer
There is a blood screening known as the PSA test, but the digital rectal exam sometimes picks up cancers the blood
test misses. The manual exam isn't an ideal screening tool; your doctor can't feel tumors that are on the front
of the prostate or buried in the middle. But because the exam is cheap and simple, there's little reason not to
What to do if there is any lump
Don't panic; it doesn't necessarily mean you're in trouble. About half of the time, a suspicious bump in
the prostate turns out not to be cancer. If both your exam and your PSA test suggest that cancer may be present,
your doctor will likely order a biopsy so that a sample of tissue can be examined under a microscope.