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Examination of your back passage

An examination of your back passage (rectum) involves your doctor feeling inside your rectum using their finger. This procedure is also called a digital rectal exam (DRE).

Why you might have this

You might have a rectal examination to help work out the cause of your symptoms.

What happens before the examination?

It’s normal to feel a bit anxious about this test and it might be uncomfortable. But it usually only takes a few minutes and you shouldn’t feel any pain. Tell your doctor if you do.

You can ask for a man or woman doctor if you’d prefer. Or you can have someone else in the room, such as a family member.

During the examination

The doctor or nurse will ask you to take off your clothes on your lower half, including underwear.

You’ll lie on your left hand side, with your knee’s brought up towards your chest.

The doctor or nurse will put on gloves and then put lubricating gel on their finger. They will then put their finger inside your back passage and feel for anything unusual, such as lumps.

What happens after

Once it’s done you can get up and get dressed. You’ll be able to leave as soon as you’re ready.

If your doctor or nurse finds anything unusual they will refer you for further tests, such as a colonoscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy.  

Last reviewed: 
05 Sep 2018
  • Rectal cancer: ESMO Clinical Practical Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow up
    R Glynne-Jones and others
    Annals of Oncology, 2017. Volume 28, Pages 422-440

  • Association of Coloproctology of Great Britain & Ireland (ACPGBI): Guidelines for the management of cancer of the colon, rectum and anus (2017) – diagnosis, investigations and screening
    C Cunnigham and others
    Colorectal disease, 2017. Volume 19, Pages 1-97

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