Digital Rectal Exam (DRE)

There are a few tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. The digital rectal exam (DRE) is the original, and most commonly used, test to screen men for prostate cancer (and other lower abdomen cancers). DREs are included in most men’s physical examinations; however, abnormal symptoms can also cause men to undergo a DRE. Doctors typically recommend patients to begin screenings for prostate cancer by the age of 50 (this age may drop to 45 for men who have a family history of prostate cancer).

A digital rectal exam consists of a doctor sticking a single lubricated, gloved finger into the patient’s rectum. Although the DRE can be uncomfortable, there is normally little pain and it takes only a small portion of time. The purpose of the DRE is to detect enlargements or tumors in the prostate. DREs are often done in conjunction with a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test.

If any abnormalities occur during the DRE, more testing may be required to pinpoint the cause. The discovery of these concerns can signal prostate cancer in the early stages, which leads to a higher chance of successfully addressing the problem. Nevertheless, there are still debates on whether or not early detection actually benefits the patient.

For men diagnosed in the early stages of prostate cancer, treatment may be unnecessary and harmful due to the side effects associated with it. Oftentimes, the side effects may outweigh the benefits of treatment because early stage prostate cancer generally comes with little to no concerns. Patients should, therefore, consult with their doctors to make an educated decision on whether or not to pursue treatment.

Routine checkups are important because they increase the chance of catching issues and complications before symptoms may occur. If a problem, such as prostate cancer, is found, it is important for patient’s to work with their doctors to make the best decision for their unique situation.