During a prostate exam, the health-care provider inserts a finger into the patient's rectum and feels for abnormal, lumpy or hard areas. Gloves are worn during the exam, according to WebMD.
Lubrication is used to facilitate the exam, which takes just a few minutes to complete. Most patients report general discomfort during the procedure, but it does not cause significant paint or result in prostate damage.
A rectal exam is generally performed during regular or follow-up screening for prostate cancer. The prostate lies behind the rectum and can easily be felt during the exam. Although it is a source of debate as to when men should begin getting routine exams and screenings such as digital prostate exams to screen for cancer, many health-care providers recommend that men get an exam regularly beginning at age 50. Men who are at higher risk of developing prostate cancer are sometimes encouraged to get regular examinations earlier than age 50, including men with family histories of the disease or men of African American descent.
After the exam, men can continue with normal activities. Any suspicious area or lump detected may require further studies and other tests. Generally, the test results are discussed immediately following the exam.