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Publication Detail
Predictive values for different cancers and inflammatory bowel disease of 6 common abdominal symptoms among more than 1.9 million primary care patients in the UK: A cohort study
  • Publication Type:
    Journal article
  • Authors:
    Herbert A, Rafiq M, Pham TM, Renzi C, Abel GA, Price S, Hamilton W, Petersen I, Lyratzopoulos G
  • Publisher:
  • Publication date:
  • Journal:
    PLoS Medicine
  • Volume:
  • Issue:
  • Article number:
  • Status:
  • Language:
  • Keywords:
    Cancers and neoplasms, Inflammatory bowel disease, Habits, Hemorrhage, Rectum, Abdominal pain, Esophageal cancer, Dysphagia
  • Notes:
    © 2021 Herbert et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
BACKGROUND: The diagnostic assessment of abdominal symptoms in primary care presents a challenge. Evidence is needed about the positive predictive values (PPVs) of abdominal symptoms for different cancers and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). METHODS AND FINDINGS: Using data from The Health Improvement Network (THIN) in the United Kingdom (2000–2017), we estimated the PPVs for diagnosis of (i) cancer (overall and for different cancer sites); (ii) IBD; and (iii) either cancer or IBD in the year post-consultation with each of 6 abdominal symptoms: dysphagia (n = 86,193 patients), abdominal bloating/distension (n = 100,856), change in bowel habit (n = 106,715), rectal bleeding (n = 235,094), dyspepsia (n = 517,326), and abdominal pain (n = 890,490). The median age ranged from 54 (abdominal pain) to 63 years (dysphagia and change in bowel habit); the ratio of women/men ranged from 50%/50% (rectal bleeding) to 73%/27% (abdominal bloating/distension). Across all studied symptoms, the risk of diagnosis of cancer and the risk of diagnosis of IBD were of similar order of magnitude, particularly in women, and younger men. Estimated PPVs were greatest for change in bowel habit in men (4.64% cancer and 2.82% IBD) and for rectal bleeding in women (2.39% cancer and 2.57% IBD) and lowest for dyspepsia (for cancer: 1.41% men and 1.03% women; for IBD: 0.89% men and 1.00% women). Considering PPVs for specific cancers, change in bowel habit and rectal bleeding had the highest PPVs for colon and rectal cancer; dysphagia for esophageal cancer; and abdominal bloating/distension (in women) for ovarian cancer. The highest PPVs for abdominal pain (either sex) and abdominal bloating/distension (men only) related to non-abdominal cancer sites. For the composite outcome of diagnosis of either cancer or IBD, PPVs of rectal bleeding exceeded the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE)-recommended specialist referral threshold of 3% in all age–sex strata, as did PPVs of abdominal pain, change in bowel habit, and dyspepsia, in those aged 60 years and over. Study limitations include reliance on accuracy and completeness of coding of symptoms and disease outcomes. CONCLUSIONS: Based on evidence from more than 1.9 million patients presenting in primary care, the findings provide estimated PPVs that could be used to guide specialist referral decisions, considering the PPVs of common abdominal symptoms for cancer alongside that for IBD and their composite outcome (cancer or IBD), taking into account the variable PPVs of different abdominal symptoms for different cancers sites. Jointly assessing the risk of cancer or IBD can better support decision-making and prompt diagnosis of both conditions, optimising specialist referrals or investigations, particularly in women.
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