Rectal bleeding often heralds serious colonic disease. The literature suggests that colonoscopy is superior to barium enema plus sigmoidoscopy, although no good comparative studies exist. Seventy one patients with overt rectal bleeding had prospectively flexible sigmoidoscopy, double contrast barium enema and colonoscopy completed independently. Against the gold standard, the sensitivity and specificity of colonoscopy were 0.69 and 0.78 respectively for a spectrum of colonic lesions, while for combined flexible sigmoidoscopy and double contrast barium enema these values were 0.80 and 0.56, respectively. When assessing adenoma or carcinoma, colonoscopy was more sensitive at 0.82 v 0.73, while flexible sigmoidoscopy plus double contrast barium enema was superior for detecting diverticular disease. The positive predictive value for colonoscopy was 0.87 against 0.81 for flexible sigmoidoscopy and double contrast barium enema. This study confirms that colonoscopy should be a first line investigation in subjects likely to require biopsy or therapeutic intervention.
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