The digital rectal exam (DRE) is widely used by medical professionals to check the prostate gland with a finger for unusual swelling or lumps in the rectum as an initial check for the signs of prostate cancer in men.
In some countries, such as Germany, it is the sole method used in a national screening programme for the disease.
But new research by scientists of the PROBASE trial coordinated at the German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) in Heidelberg, suggests the technique may be missing many cancers in their early stages.
The findings, which are presented today at the European Association of Urology Annual Congress in Milan, could have implications for the early detection of prostate cancer, say the researchers. They are calling for other testing methods to be used in routine screening instead.