What to Expect from a Digital Rectal Exam for Prostate Cancer

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If you’re 50 or older, you should discuss whether to have a digital rectal exam with your doctor. Sure, it’s uncomfortable, maybe even a little embarrassing. But it may be worth it. The doctor will manually check your prostate — a walnut-sized gland that surrounds the duct connecting the bladder with the penis — to look for signs of prostate cancer.

The doctor will also check to see if your prostate is enlarged, a common problem in men who are middle-aged or older. If you’ve noticed problems with urination — an urgent need to relieve yourself, a weak stream or leaking, or unusually frequent urination, especially at night — you may have an enlarged prostate that’s blocking the urine flow from your bladder. If you think this could be the case, call your doctor and ask about having the exam.

The American Cancer Society recommends that doctors offer this procedure, along with information on its potential risks and benefits, every year to all men aged 50 and up with at least a 10-year life expectancy; it is used as a screening for both colon cancer and prostate cancer.

Men at particularly high risk of prostate cancer (including African Americans and anyone with a first degree relative who had prostate cancer before age 65) should be offered the exam yearly beginning at age 45.

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