A prostate exam, or digital rectal examination, is performed by a physician to check for problems with the prostate. During the exam, the physician uses a lubricated, gloved finger to check for abnormalities, according to WebMD.
The prostate is an internal organ and is not directly visible, notes WebMD. However, because of its location in front of the rectum, a doctor can feel it by inserting a finger into the rectum. A prostate exam is performed for a couple of reasons. It may be done as part of a routine annual physical exam or when men have symptoms that suggest the prostate is enlarged. The exam is used to check the size of the prostate and look for abnormalities in the prostate gland.
Not all medical institutions agree on when men should begin screening for prostate cancer or even if a prostate exam is necessary as part of the screening. The American Cancer Society recommends men consult with their physicians about the benefits and risks associated with prostate cancer screening before making a decision. Discussions about screening for most men at average risk begin at age 50. However, African-American men or men with a family history of prostate cancer should start screening earlier, explains WebMD.