A digital rectal exam is an examination of the lower rectum. The doctor uses a gloved, lubricated finger to check for abnormalities.
How the test is performed
The doctor will first examine the outside of the anus for hemorrhoids or fissures. Then the doctor will put on a latex glove and insert a lubricated finger into the rectum. In female patients, this exam may be done together with a pelvic exam.
How to prepare for the test
The doctor will ask you to try to relax before the test and to take a deep breath during the actual insertion of the finger into the rectum.
How the test will feel
You may feel mild discomfort during this test.
Why the test is performed
This test is performed for various reasons. It is sometimes done as part of a routine yearly physical examination in both men and women.
In men, the test is used to examine the prostate, looking for abnormal enlargement or other signs of prostate cancer.
In women, a digital rectal exam may be performed during a routine gynecologic examination.
A digital rectal exam is also done to collect stool for testing for fecal occult (hidden) blood as part of screening for colorectal cancer.
This procedure is also done before other tests, such as a colonoscopy, to make sure nothing is blocking the rectum before inserting an instrument.
A normal finding means the doctor did not detect any problem during the exam. However, this test does not completely rule out all possible problems.
What abnormal results mean
An abnormal result may be due to:
A prostate problem, including prostate enlargement or prostate cancer
Bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract
Tumor of the rectum
Other problems within the rectum
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.
David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.