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A transrectal ultrasound uses sound waves to create an image of the inside of the body. It is often used to examine the male pelvic organs. The most common use of the ultrasound is to view the prostate gland and screen for prostate cancer. Once a prostate exam is completed, if there are indications of prostate cancer, such as an enlarged prostate or problems urinating, a transrectal ultrasound may be ordered.
During the transrectal ultrasound, the doctor may take measurements of the prostate and any abnormal growths. Measurements may be needed for certain types of treatments for prostate cancer. A needle biopsy may also be done. This involves taking a small tissue sample from the prostate to analyze it for the presence of cancer cells. The ultrasound may also be ordered in cases of male infertility to help determine a cause.
Prior to getting the transrectal ultrasound, the patient may be told to use an enema at home. This helps empty the colon and may prevent the need for a bowel movement during the procedure. Some doctors prefer that a patient has a moderately full bladder during the procedure to allow for a better view of the prostate. A patient may be told to drink a few glasses of water before the procedure.
Sedation is usually not needed, unless the patient will not be able to remain still or is highly anxious. The patient will be instructed to lay down on the table on his side with his knees bent towards his chest. A transducer which is specifically designed to fit into the rectum is used. Lubrication gel is placed on the transducer and it is inserted into the rectum. While the doctor guides the transducer in the rectum, he or she will watch a monitor to determine when the prostate is in view.
Although the procedure is somewhat invasive, it is considered safe. The most common side effect is blood in the stool or urine for a day or two following the exam. There is a small risk of infection, although this is unlikely. Patients who experience unusual rectal pain, excessive bleeding or fever after the procedure should call their doctor immediately.
The procedure usually takes about a half an hour to complete. If a needle biopsy needs to be done, it may take a little longer. Some physicians may give the results from a transrectal ultrasound right after the procedure. In other instances, a radiologist may need to view the ultrasound and results may take a few days. Most patients can resume their normal activities immediately after the procedure.