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Detection of upper gastrointestinal cancer in patients taking antisecretory therapy prior to gastroscopy


BACKGROUND The incidence of early gastric cancer has not increased despite better access to endoscopic facilities for general practitioners. Many patients receive a course of symptomatic treatment while waiting for gastroscopy.

AIMS To ascertain the effect of antisecretory therapy on the diagnostic process and findings for patients with upper gastrointestinal cancer.

METHODS A consecutive case study survey of the primary care records of 133 patients who had died of upper gastrointestinal cancer during 1995–97 in the South Tees health district in the north-east of England (population 300 000).

RESULTS From the 133 patients identified, 116 had died from adenocarcinoma of the oesophagus (31) or stomach (85). Failure to reach the diagnosis of cancer at the index gastroscopy was associated with prior acid suppression therapy. Only one of 54 patients on no treatment or antacids alone was erroneously diagnosed as suffering from benign disease, whereas 22 of 62 patients treated with acid suppression were diagnosed as suffering from benign disease but at varying times later turned out to have adenocarcinoma. Twenty of 45 patients taking a proton pump inhibitor had a delayed diagnosis compared with two of 17 taking an H2 receptor antagonist. The commonest lesion seen at index gastroscopy in those in whom the diagnosis was initially missed was gastric ulcer. Healing occurred in six patients taking a proton pump inhibitor, despite their later diagnosis of malignancy.

CONCLUSIONS The treatment of dyspeptic symptoms with acid suppression prior to gastroscopy masks and delays the detection of gastric and oesophageal adenocarcinoma on endoscopy in one third of patients.

  • diagnosis
  • upper gastrointestinal cancer
  • gastric adenocarcinoma
  • oesophageal adenocarcinoma
  • gastroscopy
  • antisecretory therapy

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  • Conflict of Interest Statement: A P S Hungin has provided remunerated educational input for Wyethlederle, Astra and Glaxo.

  • Abbreviations used in this paper:
    proton pump inhibitor
    H2 receptor antagonist