Prospective comparison of air-contrast barium enema and colonoscopy in patients with fecal occult blood: A pilot study

Don C. Rockey, Johannes Koch, Judy Yee, Kenneth R. McQuaid, Robert A. Halvorsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

19 Scopus citations


The utility of air-contrast barium enema and colonoscopy for evaluation of the colon has been debated. Air-contrast barium enema is less expensive and invasive than colonoscopy, but it also is less sensitive and specific. Further, although air-contrast barium enema may be less painful than colonoscopy, it often is poorly tolerated by patients. Thus, this study compared the sensitivity and the specificity of air-contrast barium enema and colonoscopy for detection of colonic lesions in patients with fecal occult blood. Over a 30-month period, patients with fecal occult blood were recruited. Patients underwent standard air-contrast barium enema, followed by colonoscopy 7 to 14 days later. Colonoscopists were blinded to the results of air-contrast barium enema until the colonoscopy was completed, after which the results were disclosed. If the findings were discrepant, colonoscopy was repeated. A total of 100 patients were evaluated. Nine air-contrast barium enemas were reported to be inadequate, and the cecum was not intubated at colonoscopy in two patients. In the remaining patients, 5 cancers were identified (1 each cecum, transverse colon, descending colon, sigmoid colon, and rectum) by both studies. Sixty-six polypoid lesions were identified in 30 patients. Diverticula were identified in 42 patients by air-contrast barium enema and in 18 patients by colonoscopy. Air-contrast barium enema detected 3 of 36 polypoid lesions 5 mm or less in diameter, 5 of 15 adenomas 6 to 9 mm in size, and 4 of 15 adenomas 10 mm or greater in diameter (sensitivity 8%, 33%, and 27%, respectively). After excluding patients with diverticula, air-contrast barium enema detected 3 of 7 adenomas 10 mm or greater in size. Overall, 12 polypoid lesions or filling defects were identified by air-contrast barium enema that could not be verified by colonoscopy. The specificity of air-contrast barium enema for lesions 1.0 cm or greater in size was 100%; for those 6 mm or greater, it was 97%. Air-contrast barium enema accurately detects colon cancer and diverticula. Its sensitivity for detection of polypoid lesions or adenomas is poor and was confounded by the presence of diverticula.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)953-958
Number of pages6
JournalGastrointestinal endoscopy
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1 2004
Externally publishedYes


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Gastroenterology

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