Why do I need a digital rectal exam?

A digital rectal examination (DRE) is a vital component of routine health screenings, particularly for men over 50 years old or those at increased risk of prostate cancer. This non-invasive procedure is instrumental in the early detection of prostate abnormalities, including cancerous growths. Understanding the significance of DRE and its role in conjunction with other diagnostic tests like the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test is crucial for maintaining optimal prostate health.

Understanding the Procedure

During a digital rectal exam (DRE), a healthcare provider inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum to feel the prostate gland for any abnormalities. The prostate, a walnut-sized gland located just in front of the rectum, is assessed for irregularities such as lumps, enlargement, or areas of hardness. The procedure is brief, typically lasting less than a minute. Although it may cause slight discomfort, most men tolerate it well.

Diagnostic Value of DRE

The proximity of the prostate gland to the rectal wall makes it accessible for examination via DRE. However, it’s essential to note that the procedure only allows for the assessment of the back wall of the prostate. As such, abnormalities in the middle or front of the gland may not be detectable through DRE alone. This limitation underscores the importance of combining DRE with other screening modalities, such as PSA testing, to enhance diagnostic accuracy.

Role of PSA Testing

In addition to DRE, PSA testing plays a pivotal role in prostate cancer detection. PSA is a protein made by the prostate gland. Elevated levels in the bloodstream may indicate prostate cancer or other conditions. Combining PSA testing with DRE increases the likelihood of detecting prostate abnormalities, as each method complements the other’s strengths and weaknesses. Recent studies suggest that the combined approach is more effective in early prostate cancer detection than either test in isolation.

Factors Influencing Screening Recommendations

The frequency of DRE and PSA testing depends on various factors such as age, family history, and individual risk factors. According to the American Cancer Society, men aged 50 and above with a life expectancy of at least 10 years should undergo annual DRE and PSA testing. However, certain high-risk groups, such as African American men and those with a family history of prostate cancer, may benefit from earlier and more frequent screenings.


In conclusion, DRE remains a cornerstone of prostate cancer screening, providing valuable insights into the health of the prostate gland. While DRE alone may not detect all prostate abnormalities, its integration with PSA testing enhances the accuracy of early cancer detection. Regular screenings, tailored to individual risk profiles, are essential for proactive prostate health management and early intervention when necessary. Consulting with a healthcare provider to establish a personalized screening regimen is paramount in maintaining optimal prostate health and overall well-being.


Dr. David Samadi is the Director of Men’s Health and Urologic Oncology at St. Francis Hospital in Long Island. He’s a renowned and highly successful board certified Urologic Oncologist Expert and Robotic Surgeon in New York City, regarded as one of the leading prostate surgeons in the U.S., with a vast expertise in prostate cancer treatment and Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy.  Dr. Samadi is a medical contributor to NewsMax TV and is also the author of The Ultimate MANual, Dr. Samadi’s Guide to Men’s Health and Wellness, available online both on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Visit Dr. Samadi’s websites at robotic oncology and prostate cancer 911. 


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