Diagnostic value of symptoms of oesophagogastric cancers in primary care: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Margaret P Astin, Tanimola Martins, Nicky Welton, Richard D Neal, Peter W Rose, William Hamilton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Selection of primary care patients for investigation of potential oesophagogastric cancer is difficult, as the symptoms may represent benign conditions, which are also more common.

AIM: To review systematically the presenting features of oesophagogastric cancers in primary care, including open-access endoscopy clinics.

DESIGN AND SETTING: Systematic review and meta-analysis.

METHOD: MEDLINE®, Embase, the Cochrane Library, and CINAHL were searched for studies of adults who were symptomatic and presented in primary care or open-access endoscopy clinics. Exclusions were being asymptomatic, screening, or recurrent cancers. Data were extracted to estimate the diagnostic performance of features of oesophagogastric cancers and summarised in a meta-analysis.

RESULTS: Fourteen studies were identified. The strongest summary sensitivity and specificity estimates were for: dyspepsia 0.42 (95% confidence interval [CI] 0.29 to 0.56) and 0.48 (95% CI = 0.31 to 0.65); pain 0.41 (95% CI = 0.24 to 0.62) and 0.75 (95% CI = 0.51 to 0.89); and dysphagia 0.32 (95% CI = 0.17 to 0.52) and 0.92 (95% CI = 0.81 to 0.97). Summary positive likelihood ratios (LR+) and diagnostic odds ratios were: dyspepsia 0.79 (95% CI = 0.55 to 1.15) and 0.65 (95% CI = 0.32 to 1.33); pain 1.64 (95% CI = 1.20 to 2.24) and 2.09 (95% CI = 1.57 to 2.77); and dysphagia 4.32 (95% CI = 2.46 to 7.58) and 5.91 (95% CI = 3.56 to 9.82). Corresponding LR+ were: anaemia 4.32 (95% CI = 2.64 to 7.08); nausea/vomiting/bloating 1.07 (95% CI = 0.52 to 2.19); reflux 0.78 (95% CI = 0.47 to 1.78) and; weight loss 5.46 (95% CI = 3.47 to 8.60).

CONCLUSION: Dysphagia, weight loss, and anaemia show the strongest association but with relatively low sensitivity and high specificity. The findings support the value of investigation of these symptoms, but also suggest that, in a population of patients who are low risk but not no-risk, investigation is not currently recommended.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e677-e691
Number of pages15
JournalBritish Journal of General Practice
Issue number639
Early online date1 Oct 2015
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2015


  • diagnosis primary health care oesophageal neoplasms stomach neoplasms symptom systematic review

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