What is a rectal examination?

A rectal examination is when a doctor inserts a gloved finger into your rectum (back passage) to feel for abnormalities. The rectum is part of the large bowel. A rectal examination is used to feel for any lumps or swellings in the rectum or prostate gland. The rectum is very close to the prostate gland.

Having a rectal examination

During a rectal examination, you lie on your left side with your knees close to your chest. The doctor gently inserts a gloved finger (with lubrication) into the rectum (back passage). This may be uncomfortable, but it is quick and should not be painful. It will be less uncomfortable if you are able to relax. Let the doctor know if you do find it painful.

Rectal examination to check the prostate gland

If there is cancer in the prostate, it may feel hard and bumpy. With benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), the prostate is usually enlarged, firm, and smooth. But the prostate can feel normal, even when there are cancer cells inside.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our bowel cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    Association of Coloproctology of Great Britain & Ireland (ACPGBI). Guidelines for the management of cancer of the colon, rectum and anus. 2017. Available from www.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/toc/14631318/19/S1

    Glynne-Jones R et al. on behalf of the ESMO Guidelines Committee. Rectal cancer: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up Annals of Oncology, 2017: 28 (Supplement 4): iv22–iv40

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Professor Tim Iveson, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

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