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Dysphagia. 2004 Spring;19(2):78-82.

Dysphagia referrals to a district general hospital gastroenterology unit: hard to swallow.

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Gastroenterology Unit, Basildon Hospital, Essex, United Kingdom.


The aim of our study was to audit dysphagia referrals received by a specialist gastroenterology unit during an entire year. We used a prospective audit carried out over a 12-month period at the District General Hospital gastroenterology unit. The audit included 396 consecutive patients who were referred with swallowing difficulties. We found that 60 referrals (15.2%) were inaccurate and the patients had no swallowing problem. Of the 336 patients with genuine dysphagia, only 29 (8.6%) were new cancer cases. The large majority of subjects had benign disease mostly related to acid reflux. Weight loss was significantly associated with malignancy but also occurred in one third of patients with reflux alone. The temporal pattern of dysphagia was not significantly predictive of cancer. All the cancer patients were above the age of 50 years. Although patients were in general assessed rapidly after hospital referral, the productivity, in terms of early tumor diagnosis, was extremely low. We conclude that there is a substantial rate of inaccurate referrals of dysphagia patients. Most true cases of swallowing difficulty relate to benign disease. Even the devotion of considerable resources to the early diagnosis of esophago gastric malignancy in an attempt to conform with best practice guidelines results in a very low success rate in terms of the detection of potentially curable tumors.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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