Beginning at the age of 50, everyone should be screened regularly for colorectal cancer (earlier screening is recommended for some high-risk groups). There are several options.
The traditional screening routine was for the doctor to perform a digital rectal exam once a year and for you to collect three stool samples to be tested for traces of blood. Also, every three to five years you would receive a sigmoidoscopy and a double-contrast barium enema to look at the lower part of the bowel. If anything...
Men over a certain age; to screen for prostate cancer, the digital rectal exam is recommended annually in all men beginning at age 50. Men at high risk (African-American men and men with one or more first-degree relatives -- a parent or sibling -- diagnosed at an early age) should begin testing at age 45. Men at even higher risk, due to multiple first-degree relatives affected at an early age, may begin testing at age 40.
Anyone with rectal bleeding, abdominal or pelvic pain, or a change in bowel habits
Annually, if over age of 50, to check for abnormalities of the rectum and/or blood in the stool
What Happens During a Digital Rectal Exam?
Before a digital rectal exam, you will be asked to undress below the waist and drape a paper or cloth covering over your waist. Men are often examined while standing, bending forward at the waist or while lying on his left side with knees bent.
The health care provider will insert a lubricated, gloved finger into the rectum and feel for tenderness, or other abnormalities. Often pressure is applied to the abdomen with the other hand to improve the ability to detect any abnormalities. The test takes only a few minutes to complete.
Women are often examined during the pelvic exam with their feet raised and supported by stirrups. The health professional then inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum. Pressure may be applied with the other hand on the lower abdomen or pelvic area to feel for tenderness or abnormalities (such as enlargement, hardness, or growths) of the organs and related tissues.
You may experience slight, momentary discomfort during the test. The procedure does not cause significant pain or any damage to the prostate.
What Happens After the Digital Rectal Exam?
You may continue your normal activities after a digital rectal exam.
Your doctor will discuss the test results with you. This is what they may find:
Nothing, a normal exam
Abnormal growths or enlargement of an organ (such as the prostate, cervix, uterus, ovaries, rectum, or bladder)
Hemorrhoids or abcesses or anal fissures (breaks in the skin around the anus)
Polyps, or tissue growths in the rectum
Note: Although the digital rectal exam is often part of the routine exam to screen for colorectal cancer, the test alone is not used to diagnose the disease. If colorectal cancer or other abnormalities are suspected, further tests such as flexible sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, or barium enema may be needed.