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Is whole-colon investigation by colonoscopy, computerised tomography colonography or barium enema necessary for all patients with colorectal cancer symptoms, and for which patients would flexible sigmoidoscopy suffice? A retrospective cohort study

Atkin, W; Wooldrage, K; Shah, U; Skinner, K; Brown, JP; Hamilton, W; Kralj-Hans, I; ... Cross, AJ; + view all (2017) Is whole-colon investigation by colonoscopy, computerised tomography colonography or barium enema necessary for all patients with colorectal cancer symptoms, and for which patients would flexible sigmoidoscopy suffice? A retrospective cohort study. Health Technology Assessment , 21 (66) 10.3310/hta21660. Green open access

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Abstract

Background For patients referred to hospital with suspected colorectal cancer (CRC), it is current standard clinical practice to conduct an examination of the whole colon and rectum. However, studies have shown that an examination of the distal colorectum using flexible sigmoidoscopy (FS) can be a safe and clinically effective investigation for some patients. These findings require validation in a multicentre study. Objectives To investigate the links between patient symptoms at presentation and CRC risk by subsite, and to provide evidence of whether or not FS is an effective alternative to whole-colon investigation (WCI) in patients whose symptoms do not suggest proximal or obstructive disease. Design A multicentre retrospective study using data collected prospectively from two randomised controlled trials. Additional data were collected from trial diagnostic procedure reports and hospital records. CRC diagnoses within 3 years of referral were sourced from hospital records and national cancer registries via the Health and Social Care Information Centre. Setting Participants were recruited to the two randomised controlled trials from 21 NHS hospitals in England between 2004 and 2007. Participants Men and women aged ≥ 55 years referred to secondary care for the investigation of symptoms suggestive of CRC. Main outcome measure Diagnostic yield of CRC at distal (to the splenic flexure) and proximal subsites by symptoms/clinical signs at presentation. Results The data set for analysis comprised 7380 patients, of whom 59% were women (median age 69 years, interquartile range 62–76 years). Change in bowel habit (CIBH) was the most frequently presenting symptom (73%), followed by rectal bleeding (38%) and abdominal pain (29%); 26% of patients had anaemia. CRC was diagnosed in 551 patients (7.5%): 424 (77%) patients with distal CRC, 122 (22%) patients with cancer proximal to the descending colon and five patients with both proximal and distal CRC. Proximal cancer was diagnosed in 96 out of 2021 (4.8%) patients with anaemia and/or an abdominal mass. The yield of proximal cancer in patients without anaemia or an abdominal mass who presented with rectal bleeding with or without a CIBH or with a CIBH to looser and/or more frequent stools as a single symptom was low (0.5%). These low-risk groups for proximal cancer accounted for 41% (3032/7380) of the cohort; only three proximal cancers were diagnosed in 814 low-risk patients examined by FS (diagnostic yield 0.4%). Limitations A limitation to this study is that changes to practice since the trial ended, such as new referral guidelines and improvements in endoscopy quality, potentially weaken the generalisability of our findings. Conclusions Symptom profiles can be used to determine whether or not WCI is necessary. Most proximal cancers were diagnosed in patients who presented with anaemia and/or an abdominal mass. In patients without anaemia or an abdominal mass, proximal cancer diagnoses were rare in those with rectal bleeding with or without a CIBH or with a CIBH to looser and/or more frequent stools as a single symptom. FS alone should be a safe and clinically effective investigation in these patients. A cost-effectiveness analysis of symptom-based tailoring of diagnostic investigations for CRC is recommended. Trial registration Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN95152621.

Type: Article
Title: Is whole-colon investigation by colonoscopy, computerised tomography colonography or barium enema necessary for all patients with colorectal cancer symptoms, and for which patients would flexible sigmoidoscopy suffice? A retrospective cohort study
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.3310/hta21660
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.3310/hta21660
Language: English
Additional information: © Queen’s Printer and Controller of HMSO 2017. This work was produced by National Institute for Health Research under the terms of a commissioning contract issued by the Secretary of State for Health. This issue may be freely reproduced for the purposes of private research and study and extracts (or indeed, the full report) may be included in professional journals provided that suitable acknowledgement is made and the reproduction is not associated with any form of advertising. Applications for commercial reproduction should be addressed to NETSCC.
Keywords: Science & Technology, Life Sciences & Biomedicine, Health Care Sciences & Services, MULTICENTER RANDOMIZED-TRIAL, CT COLONOGRAPHY, GASTROINTESTINAL-ENDOSCOPY, PRIMARY-CARE, FIBEROPTIC SIGMOIDOSCOPY, INCOMPLETE COLONOSCOPY, BOWEL PREPARATION, IRON-DEFICIENCY, PHOSPHATE ENEMA, TUMOR LOCATION
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Medical Sciences > Div of Medicine
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Medical Sciences > Div of Medicine > Department of Imaging
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10039480
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