A digital rectal exam is an examination of the lower rectum. The doctor uses a gloved, lubricated finger to check for any abnormal findings.
How the Test is Performed
The health care provider will first look at the outside of the anus for hemorrhoids or fissures. Then the health care provider will put on a latex glove and insert a lubricated finger into the rectum. In women, this exam may be done at the same time as a pelvic exam.
How to Prepare for the Test
For the test, the doctor will ask you to:
Try to relax
Take a deep breath during the insertion of the finger into your rectum
How the Test will Feel
You may feel mild discomfort during this test.
Why the Test is Performed
This test is performed for many reasons. It may be done:
As part of a routine yearly physical exam in both men and women
When your healthcare provider suspects you are bleeding somewhere in your digestive tract
When men are having symptoms that suggest the prostate is enlarged
In men, the test can be used to check the size of the prostate and to look for abnormal bumps or other changes of the prostate gland.
A digital rectal exam may be done to collect stool for testing for fecal occult (hidden) blood as part of screening for colorectal cancer.
A normal finding means the health care provider did not detect any problem during the exam. However, this test does not rule out all problems.
What Abnormal Results Mean
An abnormal result may be due to:
A prostate problem, such as an enlarged prostate gland or prostate cancer
Bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract
Tumor of the rectum
Other problems within the rectum
Loeb S, Carter HB. Early detection, diagnosis, and staging of prostate cancer. In: Wein AJ, ed. Campbell-Walsh Urology. 10th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 99.
Marcello PW. Diseases of the anorectum. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 125.
Todd Eisner, MD, Private practice specializing in Gastroenterology, Boca Raton, FL. Affiliate Assistant Professor, Florida Atlantic University School of Medicine. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.