Digital rectal exam (DRE)

A digital rectal exam (DRE) is an exam in which a healthcare professional puts a finger into the rectum to check for problems or abnormalities in the lower abdomen and pelvis.

Why a DRE is done

A DRE is most often done as part of a routine physical exam in adults. It is done:

  • to check the prostate gland for enlargement or growths in men
  • as part of a pelvic exam to check the uterus and ovaries in women
  • to check for problems with structures or other organs in the pelvis, such as the bladder
  • to help find the cause of symptoms, such as blood in the stool (poop), rectal bleeding, changes in bowel or bladder habits, lower abdominal pain or pelvic pain
  • to check for hemorrhoids (swollen blood vessels near the anus or rectum) and growths in the rectum

How a DRE is done

There is no special preparation for a DRE.

  • Men are often examined while lying on their side with their knees bent toward the chest. They may also be examined while standing and bending forward at the waist.
  • Women are examined while lying on their back with their knees bent and spread apart or with their feet raised in stirrups.
  • The outside of the anus is checked for hemorrhoids, small cracks or tears in the skin (fissures) around the anus and other abnormalities.
  • The healthcare professional gently inserts a lubricated, gloved finger of one hand into the rectum. The other hand may be used to press on the lower abdomen or pelvic area to feel for tenderness, hardness or growths.

You may feel some mild discomfort or pressure during the test.

What the results mean

A DRE is usually done with other tests to check for abnormalities. Even if DRE results are normal, further tests may be suggested.

Abnormal findings may include:

  • enlargement of the prostate gland or growths or tumours in the prostate gland in men
  • growths or tumours of the cervix, uterus or ovaries in women
  • hemorrhoids, polyps or fissures in the rectum
  • growths or tumours, such as cancer in the rectum

What happens if the results are abnormal

Your doctor may recommend more tests, procedures, follow-up care or treatment.

Special considerations for children

Preparing children before a test or procedure can help lower their anxiety, increase their cooperation and develop their coping skills. This includes explaining to children what will happen during the test, such as what they will see, feel and hear.

Preparing a child for a DRE depends on the age and experience of the child. Find out more about helping your child cope with tests and treatments.

Expert review and references

  • Digital rectal examination (DRE) . British Columbia Ministry of Health . HealthLink BC . 2017 :
  • Wilkes GM . Colon, rectal, and anal cancers. Yarbro CH, Wujcki D, Holmes Gobel B, (eds.). Cancer Nursing: Principles and Practice. 8th ed. Burlington, MA: Jones and Bartlett Learning; 2018: 51: 1423 - 1485.

Medical disclaimer

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