What Happens in a Prostate Exam?


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A prostate exam procedure is something that men may worry about, but they may be too embarrassed to ask for information about it. During a prostate exam procedure or digital rectal exam (DRE), a physician examines a man’s prostate gland to determine if there are any lumps, bumps, or other abnormalities that could indicate the presence of prostate cancer.

A prostate exam may be part of a man’s annual physical examination. A physician may recommend a prostate exam if a patient is at an increased risk due to age or other factors. It also may be advised for a man who has urinary symptoms that indicate a problem related to the prostate gland.

The American Cancer Society recommends that men who are at average risk for prostate cancer discuss a prostate exam procedure with their physician at age 50. Those who are at higher risk should address the issue earlier.

Preparing for a Prostate Exam Procedure

Being prepared for a prostate exam can help a man feel less anxious about the procedure. The more relaxed he is at the beginning of the exam, the less discomfort he is likely to experience.

Generally, a prostate exam is done quickly and simply. A typical prostate exam lasts between 10 and 25 seconds. Patients can expect to feel minimal discomfort.

There is no preparation necessary for what happens during a prostate exam. Prior to the exam, the patient will undress from the waist down.

The patient will be instructed to bend over an exam table with his feet apart and elbows on the table. Some physicians may prefer that he lie on the table on his left side. In some cases, the patient may be asked to get up on all fours.

The physician will put a rubber glove on one hand. Lubricant will be applied to the gloved index finger. The physician will insert the gloved index finger into the anus and up into the rectum. The physician typically will wait a second or two after the finger makes contact to allow the patient to relax, which will prevent discomfort.

The finger is gently inserted into the rectum until the physician feels that it is reaching the prostate gland. The physician will feel both the left side and the right side of the gland. The objective is to compare both sides and look for any type of asymmetry or anything that is different on one side from the other. The physician will push the area with slight pressure before concluding the exam.

Reference for “Prostate Exam Procedure”:

Wolf, A. et al. American Cancer Society Guideline for the Early Detection of Prostate Cancer: Update 2010. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians 2010 March/April; 60 (2): 70–98.