Prostate cancer

Updated 27 January 2015

Why Darrel Bristow-Bovey's prostate exam was awkward

Here is what award-winning author Darrel Bristow-Bovey had to say about his first prostate exam.


Darrel Bristow-Bovey's new book, One Midlife Crisis and a Speedo, is a coming-of-age tale wherein he details how he suddenly realises he is having a midlife crisis while surrounded by sharks on a small boat in the Indian Ocean.

When the multi award-winning travel writer, scriptwriter, author and columnist joined News24 live in studio to speak about his book, he also shed some light on his very first prostate examination.

"It was quite awkward," he simply said.

"I don't know many men who look forward to their first prostate examination. It is something that you are supposed to do when you turn 40 so it is pretty much what men do when they turn about 45 when they can't put it off anymore."

Bristow-Bovey explained that the procedure was awkward because it is hard to know what to do while it is happening.

"You don't really want to chat while somebody is inserting their finger into you, but if you go silent it becomes more intimate ... you can just hear each other breathe."

Watch the interview to find out what he actually spoke about:

What is the prostate?

The prostate is a small organ about the size of a small plumb or a large walnut. It is tucked away in the lower pelvis, just in front of the rectum, below the bladder and above the base of the penis.

There are several things that can go wrong with your prostate. It can get inflamed or enlarged, but the biggest potential problem is prostate cancer, one of the most common forms of cancer in men and a significant killer, especially of older men.

It is therefore recommended that every fifty year old man have a prostate examination at least once a year. The inconvenience, of course, is that it can only really be accessed properly via your back door.

What you can expect from a prostate exam?

Several tests are carried out to assess prostate health, but the most common is the digital rectal exam (DRE). During this exam, a doctor will palpate the prostate with most likely his or her index finger to check for:

- Size
- Symmetry (a healthy prostate consists of two equal halves, separated by a narrow groove)
- Lumps
- Firmness (which should be similar to that of the tip of your nose) and texture

Here’s what happens during a typical DRE:

- You’ll be asked to stand with your feet apart and bend forward so that your arms or elbows rest on a desk or examination couch. Alternatively, the exam may be conducted while you’re lying on your side with your knees bent towards the chest.

- The doctor will wear a surgical rubber glove with a heavily lubricated finger and will warn you when s/he is about to insert it into your rectum. Expect to feel a little pressure, but only mild discomfort.

- The finger will be inserted at a downward angle as if pointing to your bellybutton and the doctor will give your sphincter a few second to relax.

- The doctor will move his/her finger in a circular motion while gently feeling the prostate.

- The doctor will probably tell you when s/he is about to retract the finger and use a tissue to wipe the lubricant off your anus and buttocks.

- Expect the whole procedure to take about a minute or less.

You can make the experience more comfortable by:

- Having a bowel movement and thorough shower beforehand

- Letting your doctor know if you have haemorrhoids

- Trying to relax before and during the examination

- Taking a deep breath as the finger is being inserted

A healthy prostate

The best way to ensure a healthy prostate is to follow a balanced diet with less fatty meat, salt, milk and processed foods and more fibre, fruit, vegetables, fish and whole grains

It is also suggested that veggies like cauliflower, broccoli, radishes, turnips, cabbage, bok choy, as well as asparagus, avocado, tomatoes, carrots, rocket, wasabi, watermelons, pawpaw, soy and nuts may be particularly beneficial.

Also read:

Living with prostate cancer: Albert's Story Part 1

Living with prostate cancer Part 2: Albert is given 3 months to live
The lowdown on prostate health
Men need to be educated about prostate cancer


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