There are certain moments in a man’s life that he looks back upon with a deep sense of fondness and great appreciation. A digital rectal exam (DRE), or prostate exam does not fall into that category. That’s not to say that you won’t remember it—trust me—you will. But, as with so many things in life, a prostate exam is just something you have to endure—for your own good—right up there with going to the DMV.
Prostate Cancer by the Numbers
According to The American Cancer Society, in 2019:
- 174,650 new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed
- 31,620 deaths from prostate cancer will occur
- 1 man in 9 will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime
These sobering numbers support the fact that, other than skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men. About 6 cases in 10 are diagnosed in men who are 65 or older; it’s extremely rare for it to affect men under the age of 40.
How Often Should You Get a Prostate Exam?
Current guidelines recommend that men over age 50 should be “offered” a digital prostate exam every year. However, a new European study has shown that a thorough screening for prostate cancer every 4 years is adequate. The screening comprises a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test, a digital rectal exam, and transrectal ultrasound. According to researchers, “very few, if any, aggressive prostate cancers escape this screening.”
So, About This Prostate Thing?
With all this ado about prostates, it would probably be helpful if you knew what it was and what it does. So, your prostate is about the size of a walnut, and it supplies some of the semen released during male ejaculation. This fluid nourishes and protects sperm released during intercourse. Combined with the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test, a DRE can monitor changes in the health of the prostate.
First, your doctor will ask you to disrobe and put on a hospital gown or pull down your pants and underwear. They will choose the position that’s most comfortable for you. Options include lying on your side, squatting on the exam table, or bending over the exam table. Your doctor will gently insert a gloved, lubricated finger into your anus while encouraging you to relax. I should mention that you will find it virtually impossible to do so.
The Screening Process
The doctor will probe your lower rectum feeling for any abnormalities. For example, an enlarged prostate feels like a bulge behind the rectum wall. Prostate cancer may feel like bumps on the usually smooth surface of the prostate. The procedure can take anywhere from a few seconds to a minute (which you will quickly consider the longest minute of your life). During the procedure, you might feel the urge to urinate, which is normal.
Your doctor will be able to tell you immediately if they feel anything abnormal and can usually give you a good idea of the potential problem. If you have an abnormality that your doctor cannot diagnose with certainty at the time of the exam, you’ll need further testing. Additional testing may include a biopsy, proctoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy, which you can read more about right here.
A Note from GR8NESS
While November is dedicated to promoting awareness of men’s health issues. At GR8NESS, we aspire to inform and promote health-related issues for all of our readers throughout the entire year. Bettering ourselves physically, mentally, and emotionally is a 24/365 effort, and we’re here to travel with and support you during your journey towards becoming a better you.