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Digital Rectal Exams: Everything You Need to Know

Medically reviewed by John Paul Abrina, MD · Oncology · Davao Doctors Hospital

Written by Jan Alwyn Batara · Updated Jul 05, 2021

Digital Rectal Exams: Everything You Need to Know

A digital rectal exam or DRE, is a test for both men and women wherein a doctor checks the organs near a person’s rectum and the anus for any potential health problems.

Digital rectal exams can help doctors detect diseases such as BPH or benign prostatic hyperplasia in men, uterine or ovarian cancer in women, as well as problems with the rectum or the digestive tract.

Undergoing a DRE can help identify and treat diseases early on. If the digital rectal exam findings for BPH shows that there is a problem, the doctor can have a good idea of how to proceed with treatment.

Who would need to undergo a digital rectal exam?

For most people, undergoing a digital rectal exam will be a part of their annual medical checkup. However, a DRE might also be necessary for someone experiencing peculiar symptoms such as: bleeding in their bowels, pain in the pelvis, or even, discharge from the urethra.

For men aged 50 and older, having a yearly exam is important. This is because it helps them check for prostate cancer and BPH. If the digital rectal exam findings for BPH turn out positive, then they can be better prepared to manage their condition.

For women, undergoing a DRE helps detect the possibility of ovarian or uterine cancer as well as any other problems related to the bowels or the urinary tract.

Digital rectal exams also check for internal hemorrhoids, as well as bowel cancer. It also helps check for any abnormalities in the rectum or anus.

How is a digital rectal exam conducted?

The test is usually done by a gynecologist for women, but primary care physicians also conduct this test if it is a part of a routine physical examination.

For people having problems with their digestive system, it might be conducted by a  gastroenterologist. Sometimes it can be conducted by an oncologist if there is a possible risk of cancer.

Your doctor would also ask you a few questions before the DRE starts. This helps assess the current state of your health, as well as if you are feeling any symptoms that would help your doctor identify if there are any problems.

Next, you will be asked to take off your clothing from the waist down. You will be asked to lay on your side on the examination table, with your knees bent upwards to your chest.

The doctor then inserts a gloved and lubricated finger inside your rectum, and will feel the inside for anything unusual. If there are no problems, there should not be any pain when the doctor does this.

The doctor will check your prostate for any problems, or if it is enlarged. If the digital rectal exam findings for BPH show any problems, or if there are other problems that were found during the test, then your doctor will discuss it with you.

The DRE doesn’t take long, and is usually done after a few minutes. After the examination, your doctor will discuss the results and any findings. Your doctor might also ask you to undergo a few more tests after a DRE. This usually happens if they think there might be another problem.

How to take care of your prostate

DREs are most commonly done to men who are aged 50 and older. This is because as men grow older, the prostate starts to grow larger.

Usually, this is not an issue, so long as the prostate does not grow too large. However, if the prostate becomes too large, it starts to push against the bladder. This causes discomfort, difficulty urinating, and in some cases, infection.

That is why caring for your prostate should start when you are still young, so that you can keep your prostate in good shape as you grow older.

Here are some important tips to remember when it comes to taking care of your prostate:

  • Make sure to eat a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are chock-full of vitamins and minerals, as well as antioxidants that can help keep your prostate healthy.
  • Studies have shown that taking vitamin D supplements can potentially lower the risk of having an enlarged prostate. The best way to get vitamin D would be to go outside in the morning and get some much-needed sunlight.
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes each day. Daily exercise and physical activity helps keep your body strong. It also lowers the risk of prostate problems, but also heart disease and other health problems.
  • Once you are 50 years old, it would be a good idea to get screened for prostate cancer yearly. If digital rectal exam findings for BPH or prostate cancer show a positive result, the earlier it is detected, the better it can be managed.
  • If you feel any symptoms of an enlarged prostate, or any pain or discomfort in your pelvic area, do not hesitate to talk to your doctor about it. The earlier the problem is detected, the better it can be treated.
  • Quit smoking. If you’re a smoker, quitting as soon as possible can lower your risk of prostate cancer. Smoking has also been connected to lung cancer, hypertension, and numerous other diseases. 


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

John Paul Abrina, MD

Oncology · Davao Doctors Hospital

Written by Jan Alwyn Batara · Updated Jul 05, 2021

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