What is a double-contrast barium enema?

Donald Petroski, MD
A double-contrast barium enema (DCBE) is one of the options used to screen for colorectal cancer. In this test, a series of x-ray images of the entire colon and rectum is taken after the person is given an enema with a barium solution.

A bowel prep must be done for this test. The barium helps to outline the colon and the rectum on the images. Radiation exposure occurs and the person is not sedated.

DCBE is not widely used because it is less sensitive than colonoscopy for detecting small polyps and cancers. However, it may be used for people who cannot undergo standard colonoscopy -- for example, because they are at particular risk for complications.
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The double-contrast barium enema (DCBE) is also called an air-contrast barium enema or a barium enema with air contrast. It may also be referred to as a lower GI series. It is basically a type of x-ray test. Barium sulfate, which is a chalky liquid, and air are used to outline the inner part of the colon and rectum to look for abnormal areas on x-rays. If suspicious areas are seen on this test, a colonoscopy will be needed to explore them further.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Double-contrast barium enema is a type of X-ray that can provide an image of the bowel after both a cleansing enema and an enema containing the contrast material is introduced into the rectum. As the barium coats the lining, an outline of a mass can be seen on the X-ray image. If anything is detected, colonoscopy is required.
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