Individual inflammatory marker abnormalities or inflammatory marker scores to identify primary care patients with unexpected weight loss for cancer investigation?
Nicholson BD., Oke JL., Aveyard P., Hamilton WT., Hobbs FDR.
BACKGROUND: Combinations of inflammatory markers are used as prognostic scores in cancer patients with cachexia. We investigated whether they could also be used to prioritise patients attending primary care with unexpected weight loss for cancer investigation. METHODS: We used English primary care electronic health records data linked to cancer registry data from 12,024 patients with coded unexpected weight loss. For each individual inflammatory marker and score we estimated the sensitivity, specificity, likelihood ratios, positive predictive value (PPV) and the area under the curve along with 95% confidence intervals for a cancer diagnosis within six months. RESULTS: The risk of cancer associated with two abnormal inflammatory markers combined in a score was higher than the risk associated with individual inflammatory marker abnormalities. However, the risk of cancer in weight loss associated with individual abnormalities, notably a raised C-reactive protein, was sufficient to trigger further investigation for cancer under current NICE guidelines. CONCLUSIONS: If scores including pairs of inflammatory marker abnormalities were to be used, in preference to individual abnormalities, fewer people would be investigated to diagnose one cancer with fewer false positives, but fewer people with cancer would be diagnosed overall.