A digital rectal examination (or exam) is used to see if you might have a prostate problem or prostate cancer. It involves your doctor or nurse feeling your prostate through the wall of the back passage (rectum).

What does a DRE involve?

You might have a DRE at your GP surgery or at the hospital.

The doctor or nurse will ask you to lie on your side on an examination table, with your knees brought up towards your chest. They will slide a finger gently into your back passage. They’ll wear gloves and put some gel on their finger to make it more comfortable.

You may find the DRE slightly uncomfortable or embarrassing, but the test isn’t usually painful and it doesn’t take long.

the doctor or nurse feels the prostate through the wall of your back passage

“When I had the DRE I thought, ‘For a few seconds of discomfort, I can live with it’. Yeah it’s uncomfortable, but it could save your life."

- A personal experience

What do the DRE results mean?

A digital rectal examination (DRE) is a test used to see if you might have a prostate problem or prostate cancer.

Your prostate may feel:

  • normal – a normal size for your age with a smooth surface
  • larger than expected for your age – this could be a sign of an enlarged prostate
  • hard or lumpy – this could be a sign of prostate cancer.

The DRE is not a completely accurate test. Your doctor or nurse can’t feel the whole prostate. And a man with prostate cancer might have a prostate that feels normal.

If you have a DRE, your doctor or nurse might suggest waiting a week before having a PSA test. This is because having a DRE just before a PSA test could slightly raise your PSA level.

What happens next?

Your GP will talk to you about all your test results and what they might mean. If they think you may have a prostate problem, they’ll make an appointment for you to see a specialist at the hospital. If they think you could have prostate cancer, you will usually see the specialist within two weeks. They might recommend that you have a prostate biopsy or a scan.

I found it very helpful talking to an experienced Prostate Cancer UK nurse over the phone.

- A personal experience