The Diagnosis of Colorectal Cancer in Patients with Symptoms: Finding a Needle in a Haystack

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The Diagnosis of Colorectal Cancer in Patients with Symptoms: Finding a Needle in a Haystack

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Title: The Diagnosis of Colorectal Cancer in Patients with Symptoms: Finding a Needle in a Haystack
Author: Fletcher, Robert H.
Citation: Fletcher, Robert H. 2009. The diagnosis of colorectal cancer in patients with symptoms: finding a needle in a haystack. BMC Medicine 7: 18.
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Abstract: Patients often see primary care physicians with symptoms that might signal colorectal cancer but are also common in adults without cancer. Physicians and patients must then make a difficult decision about whether and how aggressively to evaluate the symptom. Favoring referral is that missed diagnoses lead to unnecessary testing, prolonged uncertainty, and continuing symptoms; also, the physician will suffer chagrin. It is not clear that diagnostic delay leads to progression to a more advanced stage. Against referral is that proper evaluation includes colonoscopy, with attendant inconvenience, discomfort, cost, and risk. The article by Hamilton et al, published this month in BMC Medicine, provides strong estimates of the predictive value of the various symptoms and signs of colorectal cancer and show how much higher predictive values are with increasing age and male sex. Unfortunately, their results also make clear that most colorectal cancers present with symptoms with low predictive values, < 1.2%. Models that include a set of predictive variables, that is, risk factors, age, sex, screening history, and symptoms, have been developed to guide primary prevention and clinical decision-making and are more powerful than individual symptoms and signs alone. Although screening for colorectal cancer is increasing in many countries, cancers will still be found outside screening programs so primary care physicians will remain at the front line in the difficult task of distinguishing everyday symptoms from life-threatening cancer.
Published Version: doi:10.1186/1741-7015-7-18
Other Sources: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2672954/pdf/
Terms of Use: This article is made available under the terms and conditions applicable to Other Posted Material, as set forth at http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:dash.current.terms-of-use#LAA
Citable link to this page: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:4879180
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