If your doctor has ordered a colonoscopy, you may be wondering what other choices you have. A colonoscopy really is the best test out there for detecting and treating problems in the colon. But there are some other options before going for a full colonoscopy.
Barium enema — a test performed with an x-ray. This test is less accurate than a colonoscopy, often missing or misdiagnosing lesions. An abnormality detected with a barium enema may actually be residual waste in an incompletely cleansed colon. You may end up needing a colonoscopy anyway to clarify the results.
Flexible sigmoidoscopy — a limited colon examination that examines only the last third of the colon. You may end up needing a colonoscopy if problems or abnormalities are found in the last third of the colon.
Virtual colonoscopy — a test that uses a CAT scan to make virtual images of your colon. Preparation for a virtual colonoscopy is similar to preparation for a regular one: the colon must be cleaned out using laxatives. The virtual colonoscopy can be almost as effective as a regular colonoscopy. However, certain polyps and lesions may be too small to be seen by the CAT scan. And a virtual colonoscopy cannot remove polyps from the colon. If polyps are found, you will need a colonoscopy to remove them.
None of these alternatives are as effective as a good old colonoscopy. If you are reluctant to undergo a traditional colonoscopy, they can help your doctor determine whether or not you need the full test. But think about this: as many as forty percent of people who have a colonoscopy because they are at normal or high risk for colon problems DO have polyps. You have a pretty good chance of needing that colonoscopy anyway to remove the polyps. So ask yourself this: would you rather prepare for the test once and get it over with, or would you rather go for the alternative test and hope you don’t need the full colonoscopy?