It's normal for men of a certain age—50 years old for most men and 45 for those at higher risk—to get a prostate exam every couple of years. But apart from an expectation of feeling a probing sensation, many men may not know much about the reasons, implications and overall importance of this screening.

So, let's begin at the beginning...

A walnut-sized gland located at the front of a man's rectum and below the bladder, the prostate produces a fluid that, when expelled, mixes with sperm from the testicles to make semen. The prostate is also partially responsible for pushing semen up the urethra and out of the penis.

Abnormalities in the prostate can develop into prostate cancer, and the digital rectal exam (DRE) is the first line of defense in detecting such anomalies. The exam can also detect prostate inflammation and certain infections.

Since the prostate gland partially surrounds the urethra, any abnormal prostate growth can affect a man's urinary function and cause issues, including:

  • Urinary retention