If you’re 50 or older, you should discuss whether to have a prostate 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.
Additionally, Black men are at a higher risk for being diagnosed with prostate cancer. Therefore, healthcare providers often recommend that Black men have their first prostate exam around age 45.
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 no longer recommends that doctors offer the digital rectal exam, 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 leaves that decision up to the patient and their doctor.
How to prepare for the exam
Little preparation is needed before a prostate exam. However, you should let your healthcare provider know if you have existing conditions that could cause discomfort, such as:
- Anal fissures.
- Anal tears.
Your healthcare provider may ask you to abstain from sex for 48 hours before your prostate exam.
This is because ejaculation can cause your PSA levels to increase temporarily, which could affect your test results.
What should I expect?
Usually painless, the digital rectal exam, or DRE, takes a minute or less (though it may seem longer).
The doctor will ask you to bend over or lie on your side; then he or she will insert a gloved, lubricated finger into