UBC Faculty Research and Publications

The Digital Divide: A Retrospective Survey of Digital Rectal Examinations during the Workup of Rectal Cancers Farooq, Omar; Farooq, Ameer; Ghosh, Sunita; Qadri, Raza; Steed, Tanner; Quinton, Mitch; Usmani, Nawaid


Background: Digital rectal examination (DRE) is considered an important part of the physical examination. However, it is unclear how many patients have a DRE performed at the primary care level in the work-up of rectal cancer, and if the absence of a DRE causes a delay to consultation with a specialist. Methods: A retrospective patient questionnaire was sent to 1000 consecutive patients with stage II or stage III rectal cancer. The questionnaire asked patients to recall if they had a DRE performed by their general practitioner (GP) when they first presented with symptoms or a positive FIT test. Demographic data, staging data, and time to consultation with a specialist were also collected. Results: A thousand surveys were mailed out, and a total of 262 patients responded. Of the respondents, 46.2% did not recall undergoing a digital rectal examination by their primary care provider. Women were less likely to undergo a DRE than men (28.6% vs. 44.3%, p = 0.019). While there was a trend towards longer times to specialist consultation in patients who did not undergo a DRE (27.0 vs. 12.2 weeks), this was not statistically significant (p = 0.121). Conclusion: A significant proportion of patients who are FIT positive or have symptomatic rectal bleeding do not recall having a DRE by their primary care provider. Barriers may include lack of comfort with performing DRE or lack of time. Clearer guidelines and more support for GP’s may increase uptake of DRE.

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