The role of the digital rectal examination in subsequent screening visits in the European randomized study of screening for prostate cancer (ERSPC), Rotterdam

Eur Urol. 2008 Sep;54(3):581-8. doi: 10.1016/j.eururo.2008.03.104. Epub 2008 Apr 8.


Background: The value of digital rectal examination (DRE) as a screening test for prostate cancer (PC) is controversial in the current prostate-specific antigen (PSA) era.

Objectives: To determine (1) the additional value of a suspicious DRE for the detection of PC in men with an elevated PSA level in subsequent screenings and (2) the tumour characteristics of PCs detected in men with a suspicious DRE.

Design, setting, participants: Within the screening study, from 1997-2006 men aged 55-75 years were invited for an every 4-yr PSA determination. A PSA level > or =3.0ng/ml prompted a DRE and a transrectal ultrasound (TRUS)-guided, lateralized sextant biopsy. Throughout the three screenings of the ERSPC, Rotterdam, 5040 biopsy sessions were evaluated.

Measurements: We determined the positive predictive values (PPVs) of a suspicious DRE and normal DRE, which entailed, respectively, the proportion of PCs detected in men with a suspicious DRE or normal DRE divided by, respectively, all biopsied men with a suspicious DRE or normal DRE.

Results and limitations: At initial screening, the PPV of a suspicious DRE, in conjunction with an elevated PSA level, to detect PC was 48.6% compared to 22.4% for men with a normal DRE. Both PPVs decreased in consecutive screens: respectively, 29.9% versus 17.1% (screen 2) and 21.2% versus 18.2% (screen 3). Respectively, 71.0% (p<0.001), 68.8% (p<0.001), and 85.7% (p=0.002) of all PCs with a Gleason score >7 were detected in men with a suspicious DRE at screens 1, 2, and 3. A limitation is that only biopsied men were evaluated.

Conclusions: At initial and subsequent screenings, the chance of having cancer at biopsy was higher in men with a suspicious DRE compared to men with a normal DRE (to a lesser extent in subsequent screenings), and the combination of a PSA level > or =3.0ng/ml with a suspicious DRE resulted in detecting significantly more PCs with Gleason score >7. DRE may be useful in more selective screening procedures to decrease unnecessary biopsies and overdiagnosis.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Biopsy
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Digital Rectal Examination*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prostate-Specific Antigen / blood
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / diagnosis*


  • Prostate-Specific Antigen