A barium enema is performed to examine the walls of the colon. During the procedure, a well lubricated enema tube is inserted gently into the rectum. The barium, a radiopaque (shows up on X-ray) contrast medium, is then allowed to flow into the colon. The flow of the barium is monitored by the health care provider on an X-ray fluoroscope screen (like a TV monitor). The test is used to detect colon cancer. The barium enema may also be used to diagnose and evaluate the extent of inflammatory bowel diseases.
Review Date 1/16/2020
Updated by: Michael M. Phillips, MD, Clinical Professor of Medicine, The George Washington University School of Medicine, Washington, DC. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.