Learning from case reports: diagnostic issues in an epidemiologic study of pancreatic cancer

J Clin Epidemiol. 1998 Dec;51(12):1215-21. doi: 10.1016/s0895-4356(98)00130-9.


Epidemiologic studies on exocrine pancreatic cancer show a large heterogeneity in diagnostic criteria applied to define "caseness." Reanalyses conducted after review of diagnostic information have yielded substantially different results than those based on more crude classifications of disease. During a multicenter prospective study on mutations in the K-ras gene in pancreatic and biliary diseases, hospital diagnoses from 602 patients were reviewed by a panel of experts. There were two main motivations to do so: a generic interest for the quality of the diagnostic data, and the anticipation that a firm diagnosis could be needed to assess whether patients whose tumors did not harbor the mutation were true negatives or false negatives. In addition, the review of diagnoses was helpful to minimize tissue misclassification, and it had a high educational value for clinicians and epidemiologists. This article illustrates why and how this was so through a brief presentation of the 10 most significant cases. With respect to selection and classification of subjects, the main issues that studies on pancreatic cancer need to address are the differential diagnosis of exocrine pancreatic cancer and pancreatitis, the differential diagnosis of exocrine pancreatic cancer and other abdominal tumors, and the use of survival as a hallmark of pancreatic cancer. In epidemiologic studies of pancreatic cancer, it is warranted that a panel of experts centrally reviews all the existing diagnostic evidence (cytohistological and other) of all patients, regardless of whether they have cytohistological confirmation and of their hospital discharge diagnosis.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / diagnosis
  • Adenocarcinoma / epidemiology
  • Adenocarcinoma / genetics
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Biliary Tract Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Biliary Tract Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Biliary Tract Neoplasms / genetics
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Genes, ras
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Molecular Epidemiology
  • Pancreatic Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Pancreatic Diseases / epidemiology
  • Pancreatic Diseases / genetics
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / genetics
  • Prognosis
  • Prospective Studies
  • Spain / epidemiology