I know if you’re reading this, your first thought upon reading the title was, “Oh, no! There is simply no way I could ever, ever, ever…” and that’s fine. It’s still important to know that this is an option that is available to you to help you to discover the early warning signs of potential prostate cancer. Our goal is to help to educate you and share all of the other resources that are available. We want to encourage you to be more aware. We want you to help make others aware of the prevalence of prostate cancer in men. We would love for everyone to know about all of the help available to minimize the impact of prostate cancer if it comes. The prostate self-exam is just another one of those options.
Detection and confirmation of the existence of prostate cancer comes through several different examinations, blood tests, and ultimately – a biopsy of the prostate gland. The digital rectal exam is a surprisingly accurate 1st-step in defending against and ultimately treating prostate cancer if confirmed through subsequent tests. This is true even though the digital rectal exam doesn’t allow a physician (or you) to check the entire surface of the prostate gland.
In terms of the frequency with which you should have a prostate exam, most recommendations are annually at the age of 40 and beyond. This is easily accommodated at your annual physical. However, even at younger ages – your 20s and 30s – consideration should be given to having your prostate gland checked with some regularity. Every two or three years should do and more frequently if you have certain other risk factors for prostate cancer.
There are several types of cancers that both men and women can check for through self-examination. Testicular cancer and breast cancer come to mind. Despite your reservations about the process by which a prostate self-examination is done, you must be aware that this option is also available to men. It can be a prostate self-exam that is done by you or a trusted partner. If you educate yourself on the methodology and what you’re looking for, you become an ever earlier line of defense against prostate cancer – yes, even before your own physician.
One caveat: A prostate self-exam is not intended to be a replacement for your annual prostate examination by a qualified physician. You’re not the expert, but you are going to be knowledgeable enough about the process and what to look for so you can make an appointment right away if you detect any unusual pain or other anomalies.
Now to the part that will likely make most readers groan… How do I do a prostate self-exam?
Step 1: While probably easier said than done, it is very important that you relax as much as possible before performing a prostate self-exam. In reaching your prostate, it’s necessary to insert your finger past the sphincter muscles in the anus. The more relaxed you can be when you do this, the easier it will be to accomplish. You can lay down on your bed or even do it in the shower.
Step 2: While optional, you can use a latex or latex-free glove. Apply a small amount lubricant to both your finger and your anus. The lubricant will make it decidedly easier to insert your finger and reduce any discomfort you may experience. Please use a personal lubricant and not baby oil or petroleum oil.
Step 3: Gently insert your lubricated finger into your anus, moving slowly and doing your level best to relax your sphincter muscles. Inserting your finger slowly but deliberately will also help to reduce any discomfort.
Step 4: Your prostate gland is about the size of a walnut. It is unmistakable when you feel it. It’s in “the front” as if you were trying to touch the front of your body towards your penis or navel. Gently move your finger along the surface of the prostate with your fingertip. Relax your mind and focus just on the feeling on your fingertip. The surface of your anal wall is a thin membrane between your fingertip and the prostate gland, but you will feel it.
Step 5: Focus on any unusual changes in the texture, if there are any lumps, if it feels noticeably larger than a walnut, and any other feeling that isn’t quite right. (No, that does not include the fact that you have your finger in your anus.)
Step 6: Slowly withdraw your finger from the anus. Dispose of your glove appropriately, wash your hands, and wash the area of your anus. You might want to just go ahead and take a full shower to wash away any dirty feeling you might have after the experience, assuming you’re a first-timer!
Done correctly, the entire process should last for a minute or so, if even that long. Despite our attempts to add a little levity to the experience, please understand that we take this matter seriously. You are responsible for your own personal health and with the alarming prevalence of prostate cancer cases, this is just another option available to you for early detection. Early detection means early treatment. Early treatment means greater success and living a long, healthy life.
Some additional points to consider:
If you do a self-exam half-way between your annual physical examination with your physician and do detect something out of the ordinary, you’ve given yourself several months extra to seek confirmation and treatment.
The texture and firmness of the prostate gland should be similar to that of the flesh between your thumb and the rest of the hand when you make a fist. If you feel anything that is as firm as the knuckle, then that needs to be brought to a physician’s attention. (Source: http://www.healthcentral.com)
The further you are able to insert your finger into your anus, the more surface area of the prostate gland you will able to check. Again, the sensation a man gets when the prostate gland is touched is unmistakable, whether doing the self-exam alone or with a trusted partner.
As with a breast cancer self-exam or testicular cancer self-exam, it is important that you or your partner feel as much of the surface of the prostate gland when performing a prostate self-exam. With regard to each of these cancer types, self-exams are often encouraged by medical professionals. The trust, concern, and care you show your partner will only strengthen your relationship, too!
See also: How Often Should I Get a Prostate Exam?