Digital Rectal Exam

What is the digital rectal exam?

The digital rectal exam, or DRE, is a routine procedure as part of an annual physical exam with a doctor. The physician briefly feels the surface of the prostate for any abnormalities by inserting a gloved and lubricated finger into the rectum for a several seconds.

The DRE is used to help diagnose prostate cancer – even when a PSA screening is not high – and for other prostate problems such as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) or prostatitis.

How is the digital rectal exam performed?

A DRE is performed without using any medication because the test is generally not painful and only takes a few minutes to complete. All clothes below the waist will be removed. There are several positions your doctor might ask you to take. Most likely the patient will either stand and bend forward at the waist or lie on their side on an examination table with knees pulled up to their chest in the fetal position.

During this test the doctor feels for bumps, soft or hard spots or other abnormalities on the prostate. If the prostate is enlarged there may be some discomfort during the examination and the urge to urinate may be present.

What are the side effects of the digital rectal exam?

Most likely there will be no negative side effects from the test but it is possible to experience some rectal bleeding, particularly if hemorrhoids or anal fissures are present. Be sure to tell the physician or nurse if you are having any side effects.