Recommended Age of Digital Rectal Exam

Submitted by Medical Health Test Team on October 17, 2012

A digital rectal exam is basically an examination conducted to probe the organs and structures within the pelvic area and lower abdomen to check for any problems. The examination is conducted by a health care professional who inserts a lubricated gloved finger, gently into the rectum. The other hand would possibly be used to apply systematic pressure on different areas of the belly or pelvic region.

A digital rectal exam is considered a routine examination when conducting a complete physical examination, as it is used to check the prostate gland. There are certain digital rectal exam age specific recommendations in this context. The digital rectal exam is used to detect growths or tumors in the prostate area for men as well as for problems in female reproductive organs. It may also be used to detect certain conditions in the case of undiagnosed symptoms like rectal bleeding, change in urination or bowel habits and so on. Hemorrhoids growths and colorectal cancer could also be diagnosed through a digital rectal exam.

Since both prostate diseases and rectal cancer are uncommon in younger adults or more precisely those under the age of 40, there is usually no requirement for digital rectal exams in younger subjects. Digital rectal exams are also included in some gynecological practices as a routine part of pelvic examination, but it is rarely helpful here. Although generally not used for younger patients it may at some times be recommended. In cases of individuals with a family history of adenomatous polyposis, this may be a necessary procedure. Adenomatous polyposis is a rare hereditary disorder that involves cancer of the colon and rectum. For such subjects screening may need to begin as early as at the age of 10. The only other circumstances under which a young person would be required to get a digital rectal exam would be if the person is above 25 years of age and has shown signs of rectal cancer.

Experts argue against digital rectal exams as a method of screening for colon cancer and many prefer fecal occult blood testing or colonoscopy and sigmoidoscopy for people in the age group of 50 to 75 years. Similarly there is also disagreement upon screening for prostate cancer, and routine testing is not recommended except for those past the age of 50. Certain groups that are at a greater risk may however need to begin screening earlier, but this would be best decided by your doctor. African Americans and men with a hereditary risk of prostate cancer could be recommended to begin testing at age 45 itself. Doctors are also generally advised against conducting digital rectal exams for patients past the age of 75.

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