The diagnostic test accuracy of rectal examination for prostate cancer diagnosis in symptomatic patients : a systematic review

  • Background: Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK. NICE guidelines on recognition and referral of suspected cancer, recommend performing digital rectal examination (DRE) on patients with urinary symptoms and urgently referring if the prostate feels malignant. However, this is based on the results of one case control study, so it is not known if DRE performed in primary care is an accurate method of detecting prostate cancer. Methods: The aim of this review is to ascertain the sensitivity, specificity, positive and negative predictive value of DRE for the detection of prostate cancer in symptomatic patients in primary care. CENTRAL, MEDLINE, EMBASE and CINAHL databases were searched in august 2015 for studies in which a DRE was performed in primary care on symptomatic patients and compared against a reference diagnostic procedure. Results: Four studies were included with a total of 3225 patients. The sensitivity and specificity for DRE as a predictor of prostate cancer in symptomatic patients was 28.6 and 90.7%, respectively. The positive and negative predictive values were 42.3 and 84.2%, respectively. Conclusion: This review found that DRE performed in general practice is accurate, and supports the UK NICE guidelines that patients with a malignant prostate on examination are referred urgently for suspected prostate cancer. Abnormal DRE carried a 42.3% chance of malignancy, above the 3% risk threshold which NICE guidance suggests warrants an urgent referral. However this review questions the benefit of performing a DRE in primary care in the first instance, suggesting that a patient’s risk of prostate cancer based on symptoms alone would warrant urgent referral even if the DRE feels normal.

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Author:Daniel Jones, Charlotte Friend, Andreas Dreher, Victoria Allgar, Una Macleod
Pubmed Id:
Parent Title (English):BMC family practice
Publisher:BioMed Central ; Springer
Place of publication:London ; Berlin ; Heidelberg
Document Type:Article
Year of Completion:2018
Date of first Publication:2018/06/02
Publishing Institution:Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Release Date:2019/08/29
Tag:Digital rectal examination; Early diagnosis; General practice; Primary care; Prostate Cancer
Issue:1, Art. 79
Page Number:6
First Page:1
Last Page:6
Open Access: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.
Institutes:Medizin / Medizin
Dewey Decimal Classification:6 Technik, Medizin, angewandte Wissenschaften / 61 Medizin und Gesundheit / 610 Medizin und Gesundheit
Licence (German):License LogoCreative Commons - Namensnennung 4.0