Digital rectal examination for prostate problems
Doctors use the digital rectal examination (DRE) as an early and relatively simple test to assess the prostate gland and to screen for prostate cancer. The goal is to detect the cancer in its early stages, when treatment is most successful.
Because the prostate is an internal organ, your doctor cannot look at it directly. However since the prostate lies in front of the rectum, your doctor can feel it by inserting a gloved, lubricated finger into your rectum.
Who should get a digital rectal examination?
Any man who is concerned about prostate-related problems should be offered a digital rectal examination to help make a diagnosis and guide treatment recommendations.
Not all medical institutions agree on whether men should have routine screening (routine testing) for prostate cancer. As is the case with most other types of cancer, early detection often means more treatment options are available and less extensive treatment is needed to achieve a successful outcome. However screening may cause anxiety and may lead to unnecessary treatment and associated side effects.
There is no formal screening programme for prostate cancer in the UK. The NHS says until there is clear evidence to show that a national screening programme brings more benefit than harm, it will not be offering prostate cancer screening for men without symptoms of prostate cancer.
As Cancer Research UK explains, this is partly because many men diagnosed with prostate cancer have tumours that are growing very slowly and will never cause any symptoms or problems in their lifetime. If the cancer is diagnosed and treated, the treatment may cause side effects in some men that greatly reduce their quality of life.
If men are concerned that they may have prostate cancer, they should talk to their doctor about the risks and benefits of testing.
What happens during a digital rectal examination?
Your doctor will insert a gloved finger into your rectum and feel the prostate for hard, lumpy or abnormal areas. The test takes only a few minutes to complete.
You may feel slight, momentary discomfort during the test. The procedure does not cause significant pain or any damage to the prostate.
What happens after the digital rectal examination?
You may continue with your normal activities. Your doctor will discuss the test results with you and discuss the next steps if he or she detects a suspicious lump or area during the examination.