A rectal examination is a type of physical examinationduring whicha doctor or nurseinserts a finger into your rectum (back passage) to feel for abnormalities.

It's sometimes known as a digital rectal examination (DRE).

Some people findhaving a rectal examination embarrassing, but it only takes a few minutes and isn't usually painful.

These changes couldinclude:

  • Rectal bleeding
  • constipation
  • loss of normal bowel function, also called bowel incontinence (and occasionally urinary incontinence )
  • pain in your bottom (proctalgia)

The prostate gland

The prostate gland is a small gland found only in men. It's located in the pelvis, between the penis and bladder, and surrounds the urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the penis).

The prostate gland can be examined by placing a finger into the rectum. The doctor carrying out the examination will be able to feel any changes in the prostate, such as swelling and hardening.

The prostate gland often becomes larger in older men. This can place pressure on the bladder and urethra, causing symptoms such as:

  • difficulty beginning to urinate
  • a flow of urine that's weak or stops and starts
  • having to push or strain to pass urine
  • a frequent need to urinate
  • waking up frequently during the night to urinate

Prostate enlargement can be troublesome to live with, but it doesn't pose a threat to health. However, its symptoms are similar to the symptoms of prostate cancer , and a rectal examination is one way of finding out whether the symptoms are caused by prostate enlargement or prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer can cause the surface of the prostate glandto become hard and bumpy, while prostate enlargementdoesn't usually affect the surface.

Arectal examination isn't a guaranteed way of diagnosing prostate cancer, so it's usually used in combination with other tests, such as a blood test and a biopsy (where a small sample of the prostate gland is removed for further testing).

Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 29 Nov 2016