BACKGROUND Cecal intubation is one of the goals of a quality colonoscopy; however, many factors increasing the risk of incomplete colonoscopy have been implicated. The implications of missed pathology and the demand on health care resources for return colonoscopies pose a conundrum to many physicians. The optimal course of action after incomplete colonoscopy is unclear.OBJECTIVES: To assess endoscopic completion rates of previously incomplete colonoscopies, the methods used to complete them and the factors that led to the previous incomplete procedure.METHODS: All patients who previously underwent incomplete colonoscopy (2005 to 2010) and were referred to St Paul’s Hospital (Vancouver, British Columbia) were evaluated. Colonoscopies were re-attempted by a single endoscopist. Patient charts were reviewed retrospectively.RESULTS: A total of 90 patients (29 males) with a mean (± SD) age of 58±13.2 years were included in the analysis. Thirty patients (33%) had their initial colonoscopy performed by a gastroenterologist. Indications for initial colonoscopy included surveillance or screening (23%), abdominal pain (15%), gastrointestinal bleeding (29%), change in bowel habits or constitutional symptoms (18%), anemia (7%) and chronic diarrhea (8%). Reasons for incomplete colonoscopy included poor preparation (11%), pain or inadequate sedation (16%), tortuous colon (30%), diverticular disease (6%), obstructing mass (6%) and stricturing disease (10%). Reasons for incomplete procedures in the remaining 21% of patients were not reported by the referring physician. Eighty-seven (97%) colonoscopies were subsequently completed in a single attempt at the institution. Seventy-six (84%) colonoscopies were performed using routine manoeuvres, patient positioning and a variable-stiffness colonoscope (either standard or pediatric). A standard 160 or 180 series Olympus gastroscope (Olympus, Japan) was used in five patients (6%) to navigate through sigmoid diverticular disease; a pediatric colonoscope was used in six patients (7%) for similar reasons. Repeat colonoscopy on the remaining three patients (3%) failed: all three required surgery for strictures (two had obstructing malignant masses and one had a severe benign obstructing sigmoid diverticular stricture).CONCLUSION: Most patients with previous incomplete colonoscopy can undergo a successful repeat colonoscopy at a tertiary care centre with instruments that are readily available to most gastroenterologists. Other modalities for evaluation of the colon should be deferred until a second attempt is made at an expert centre.