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Pre-Referral Primary Care Blood Tests and Symptom Presentation before Cancer Diagnosis: National Cancer Diagnosis Audit Data

Cranfield, Ben M; Abel, Gary A; Swann, Ruth; Moore, Sarah F; McPhail, Sean; Rubin, Greg P; Lyratzopoulos, Georgios; (2023) Pre-Referral Primary Care Blood Tests and Symptom Presentation before Cancer Diagnosis: National Cancer Diagnosis Audit Data. Cancers , 15 (14) , Article 3587. 10.3390/cancers15143587. Green open access

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Abstract

Background: Blood tests can support the diagnostic process in primary care. Understanding how symptomatic presentations are associated with blood test use in patients subsequently diagnosed with cancer can help to benchmark current practices and guide interventions. Methods: English National Cancer Diagnosis Audit data on 39,751 patients with incident cancer in 2018 were analysed. The frequency of four generic (full blood count, urea and electrolytes, liver function tests, and inflammatory markers) and five organ-specific (cancer biomarkers (PSA or CA125), serum protein electrophoresis, ferritin, bone profile, and amylase) blood tests was described for a total of 83 presenting symptoms. The adjusted analysis explored variation in blood test use by the symptom-positive predictive value (PPV) group. Results: There was a large variation in generic blood test use by presenting symptoms, being higher in patients subsequently diagnosed with cancer who presented with nonspecific symptoms (e.g., fatigue 81% or loss of appetite 79%), and lower in those who presented with alarm symptoms (e.g., breast lump 3% or skin lesion 1%). Serum protein electrophoresis (reflecting suspicion of multiple myeloma) was most frequently used in cancer patients who presented with back pain (18%), and amylase measurement (reflecting suspicion of pancreatic cancer) was used in those who presented with upper abdominal pain (14%). Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) use was greatest in men with cancer who presented with lower urinary tract symptoms (88%), and CA125 in women with cancer who presented with abdominal distention (53%). Symptoms with PPV values between 2.00–2.99% were associated with greater test use (64%) compared with 52% and 51% in symptoms with PPVs in the 0.01–0.99 or 1.00–1.99% range and compared with 42% and 31% in symptoms with PPVs in either the 3.00–4.99 or ≥5% range (p < 0.001). Conclusions: Generic blood test use reflects the PPV of presenting symptoms, and the use of organ-specific tests is greater in patients with symptomatic presentations with known associations with certain cancer sites. There are opportunities for greater blood test use in patients presenting with symptoms that do not meet referral thresholds (i.e., <3% PPV for cancer) where information gain to support referral decisions is likely greatest. The findings benchmark blood test use in cancer patients, highlighting opportunities for increasing use.

Type: Article
Title: Pre-Referral Primary Care Blood Tests and Symptom Presentation before Cancer Diagnosis: National Cancer Diagnosis Audit Data
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.3390/cancers15143587
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.3390/cancers15143587
Language: English
Additional information: © 2023 by the Authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
Keywords: blood tests; cancer; symptoms; national cancer diagnosis audit
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 Population Health Sciences > Institute of Epidemiology and Health
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Population Health Sciences > Institute of Epidemiology and Health > Behavioural Science and Health
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10173602
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