Prostate gland cancer is the second most common cancer among men (skin cancer is number one). About 1 in 7 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in his lifetime. It occurs mainly in older men, the average age being 66, and rarely occurs before age 40.
When I turned 50, I started having a prostate exam during my annual physical (which included comprehensive blood work). Why did I wait? A simple answer that most guys give: I didn’t have an annual physical before that because I thought I was in good health. While that might be true, it was pretty risky.
At the time of the prostate exam, my doctor and I discuss what he’s looking for (or rather, feeling for!) and symptoms I may experience should cancer come knocking at my prostate’s door. He also discusses my blood work, which includes a PSA test (Prostate-Specific Antigen test). There are possibilities for both false-positive and false-negative results in blood work so be sure to talk with your doctor about thoroughly examining your prostate gland’s health.
TIP: Try to empty your bowels before you undergo a prostate exam (in other words, go number two!). It’s a little more difficult for the doctor to feel your prostate gland if he has to go through or around stuff. Plus, if you really have to go, the rectal stimulation might put you over the top, or rather, plopping to the floor.
Also, because there’s usually a small amount of fecal matter on the doctor’s exam glove following your prostate exam, he might perform a fecal occult blood test, a very simple in-office test for blood in your feces, which might (but not always) indicate lower bowels problems (cancer, polyps, etc.).
And by the way, TALK with your doctor during your physical, even when he’s got his finger lodged in your rectum. Seek to be informed about your health, from head to toe. He should be glad to engage you in conversation. If he doesn’t, you might need to look for another doctor who really cares about your health.
The image below will give you an idea of the location of your prostate and how a doctor palpates the gland during the examination. One of the features for which my doctor tells me he’s feeling is smoothness, that is, no lumps or abnormalities, including enlargement.
The Mayo Clinic reports:
During a digital rectal exam, your doctor inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into your rectum and feels the back wall of the prostate gland for enlargement, tenderness, lumps, or hard spots.
Prostate cancer that is detected early – when it’s still confined to the prostate gland – has a better chance of successful treatment.