Examination of your prostate

To examine your prostate your doctor puts a finger into your back passage (rectum). This procedure is also called a digital rectal exam (DRE).

Diagram showing the position of the prostate and rectum

Why you might have this

You might have a prostate examination to check for any problems in your prostate. 

What happens before the examination?

It’s normal to feel anxious about this test but it usually only takes a few minutes. You shouldn’t feel any pain but may be uncomfortable. Tell your doctor if you feel pain.

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 knees 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 your prostate. They feel for anything unusual, such as your prostate feeling larger than it should for your age. Or feeling lumpy or hard.

What happens after

Once it’s done you can get up and get dressed. Your doctor will then discuss the results of the examination with you. 

A digital rectal examination alone won’t diagnose prostate cancer. This is because your doctor or nurse can’t feel all of your prostate. And in some cases, your prostate can feel normal but might have cancer cells in it. Or they might find something unusual and it could be due to another condition.

Your GP may refer you for more tests or refer you to a specialist after the examination. You’ll be able to leave as soon as you’re ready.

  • Prostate cancer: diagnosis and management
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 2019. Last updated December 2021

  • Suspected cancer: recognition and referral
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 2015. Last updated Dec 2021

  • Digital Rectal Exam (DRE)
    American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), last accessed March 2022

Last reviewed: 
31 Mar 2022
Next review due: 
31 Mar 2025

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