Doctor with patient (John Fedele | Getty Images)

If you’re 50 or older (or have other risk factors for prostate cancer, such as being African American or having a family history of the disease), yes, you do need to drop your pants and bend over.

“A rectal exam is really many tests in one because the doctor can not only check on your prostate, but also assess hemorrhoids, look for signs of rectal cancer and check for blood—which can be an early warning sign of colon cancer,” says urologist Tobias Kohler.

At the same time your doctor schedules your annual physical exam, he’ll probably also blood work to look at the PSA levels in your blood. The test analyzes the levels of a protein produced by the prostate gland—higher levels are theoretically an indication of possible cancer. But, while the test is controversial (it can lead to false positives and unnecessary treatment), Dr. Kohler says that together with a physical exam the two can be powerful tools for predicting prostate cancer risk.

Tobias Kohler, MD, MPH, is a urologist and an associate professor at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. 

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