Utility of digital rectal examination in a population with prostate cancer treated with active surveillance


  • Jaime O. Herrera-Caceres University of Toronto
  • Marian S. Wettstein
  • Hanan Goldberg
  • Ants Toi
  • Thenappan Chandrasekar
  • Dixon T.S. Woon
  • Ardalan E. Ahmad
  • Noelia Sanmamed-Salgado
  • Omar Alhunaidi
  • Khaled Ajib
  • Gregory Nason
  • Guan Hee Tan
  • Neil Fleshner
  • Laurence Klotz




Active surveillance, Digital rectal examination, Prostate cancer, Prostate biopsy


Introduction: Digital rectal examination (DRE) is part of the clinical evaluation of men on active surveillance (AS). The purpose of the present study is to analyze the value of DRE as a predictor of upgrading in a population of men with prostate cancer (PCa) treated with AS.

Methods: We used the prostate biopsy (PBx) database from an academic center, including PBx from 2006–2018, and identified 2029 confirmatory biopsies (CxPBx) of men treated with AS, of which 726 men had both diagnostic (initial) and CxPBx information available. We did a descriptive analysis and evaluated sensitivity, specificity, and predictive values of DRE for the detection of clinically significant PCa (csPCa). Multivariable regression analysis was done to identify predictors of csPCa. The primary outcome was to evaluate DRE as a predictor of the presence of csPCa at CxPBx.

Results: Among the 2029 patients with a CxPBx, 75% had PCa, and of these, 30.3% had upgrading to International Society of Urologic Pathologists (ISUP) grade ≥2. Thirteen percent of men had a suspicious DRE (done by their treating physician). Sensitivity, specificity, negative and positive predictive values of DRE to detect csPCa were best with a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) <4 ng/ml (27%, 88%, 31%, and 87%, respectively). A suspicious DRE at CxPBx, particularly if the DRE at diagnosis was negative, was a predictor of csPCa (odds ratio [OR] 2.34, p=0.038). The main limitation of our study is the retrospective design and the lack of magnetic resonance imaging.

Conclusions: We believe DRE should still be used as part of AS and can predict the presence of csPCa, even with low PSA values. A suspicious nodule on DRE represents a higher risk of upgrading and should prompt further assessment.


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How to Cite

Herrera-Caceres, J. O., Wettstein, M. S. ., Goldberg, H. ., Toi, A. ., Chandrasekar, T. ., Woon, D. T. ., Ahmad, A. E. ., Sanmamed-Salgado, N. ., Alhunaidi, O. ., Ajib, K. ., Nason, G. ., Tan, G. H. ., Fleshner, N. ., & Klotz, L. . (2020). Utility of digital rectal examination in a population with prostate cancer treated with active surveillance. Canadian Urological Association Journal, 14(9), E453–7. https://doi.org/10.5489/cuaj.6341



Original Research