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Double Contrast Barium Enema (DCBE)


In this test, a series of x-rays of the entire colon and rectum are taken after the patient is given an enema - the injection of a liquid through the anus into the large bowel. The enema contains a liquid that contains barium sulfate (a form of the silver-white metallic element barium). At the same time as the enema, air is introduced into the colon. The barium and air help to outline the colon and rectum on the x-rays.

DCBE detects about 30 to 50 percent of the cancers that can be found with a standard colonoscopyResearch shows that DCBE may miss small polyps

A DCBE is usually recommended every 5 – 10 years.

  • It is advisable to keep to the suggested schedule. If colorectal cancer occurs, the earlier it is detected, the more likely a person will survive.
  • To help you remember the schedule, ask the person close to you who is good at such things to help you keep track.

Advantages of a DCBE

The advantages of a double contrast barium enema are:

  • This test usually allows the doctor to view the rectum and the entire colon.
  • Complications are rare.
  • No sedation is necessary.
  • Less expensive than a colonoscopy.
  • Accurate for finding abnormalities, such as narrowed areas or pockets or sacs in the intestinal wall, such as diverticulosis.

Disadvantages of DCBE

The disadvantages of a double contrast barium enema are:

  • This test may not detect some small polyps and cancers.
  • Thorough cleansing of the colon with a laxative is necessary before the test.
  • False-positive results are possible.
  • The doctor cannot perform a biopsy or remove polyps during the test.
  • Additional procedures such as a colonoscopy are necessary if the test indicates an abnormality.
  • Patients may find the test uncomfortable or embarrassing.
  • Availability is decreasing. This test is usually only available for patients who cannot undergo a colonoscopy.

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