Alarm symptoms and identification of non-cancer diagnoses in primary care: Cohort study

Roger Jones*, Judith Charlton, Radoslav Latinovic, Martin C. Gulliford

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: To evaluate the predictive value of alarm symptoms for specified non-cancer diagnoses and cancer diagnoses in primary care. Design: Cohort study using the general practice research database. Setting: 128 general practices in the UK contributing data, 1994-2000. Participants: 762 325 patients aged 15 or older. Main outcome measures: Up to 15 pre-specified, noncancer diagnoses associated with four alarm symptoms (haematuria, haemoptysis, dysphagia, rectal bleeding) at 90 days and three years after the first recorded alarm symptom. For each outcome analyses were implemented separately in a time to event framework. Data were censored if patients died, left the practice, or reached the end of the study period. Results: We analysed data on first episodes of haematuria (11 108), haemoptysis (4812), dysphagia (5999), or rectal bleeding (15 289). Non-cancer diagnoses were commonin patients who presented with alarm symptoms. The proportion diagnosed with either cancer or noncancer diagnoses generally increased with age. In patients presenting with haematuria, the proportions diagnosed with either cancer or non-cancer diagnoses within 90 days were 17.5% (95% confidence interval 16.4% to 18.6%) in women and 18.3% (17.4% to 19.3%) in men. For the other symptoms the proportions were 25.7% (23.8% to 27.8%) and 24% (22.5% to 25.6%) for haemoptysis, 17.2% (16% to 18.5%) and 22.6% (21% to 24.3%) for dysphagia, and 14.5% (13.7% to 15.3%) and 16.7% (15.8% to 17.5%) for rectal bleeding. Conclusion: Clinically relevant diagnoses are made in a high proportion of patients presenting with alarm symptoms. For every four to seven patients evaluated for haematuria, haemoptysis, dysphagia, or rectal bleeding, relevant diagnoses will be identified in one patient within 90 days.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)491-493
Number of pages3
JournalBritish Medical Journal
Issue number7719
Publication statusPublished - 29 Aug 2009
Externally publishedYes


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