Even young patients with no alarm symptoms should undergo endoscopy for earlier diagnosis of gastric cancer

Endoscopy. 2003 Jan;35(1):61-7. doi: 10.1055/s-2003-36414.


Background and study aims: There has been a tendency in recent years to omit endoscopy in dyspeptic patients younger than 45 years with no so-called "alarm symptoms." This study was conducted to test whether this policy might lead to an increased rate of delayed diagnosis of gastric cancer, especially in a population with a high prevalence of the disease.

Patients and methods: The study included 860 patients (465 women, 395 men; median age 44) referred for the first time for upper gastrointestinal endoscopy because of suspected upper gastrointestinal pathology, to a secondary referral center between 1983 and 1993. Symptoms were assessed using a special questionnaire prior to endoscopy. The endoscopic diagnosis was always confirmed by histology.

Results: Gastric cancer was found in 83 patients (12 early cancers, 71 advanced). Patients with cancer were predominantly male (68 %, compared with 44 % in the no-cancer group; P < 0.001), and significantly older (median age 56, 44 and 42 years for advanced, early cancer, and no cancer, respectively; P < 0.001). As many as 24 % of patients with cancer were aged under 45 years. Symptoms occurring more frequently in the gastric cancer group compared with the no-cancer group were weight loss (11 % vs. 0.1 %; P < 0.001), gastrointestinal bleeding (18 % vs. 8 %; P < 0.001), anorexia (43 % vs. 25 %; P < 0.001), and fatigue (53 % vs. 30 %; P < 0.001). In 27 % of cancer patients none of the above symptoms was observed. No statistical difference was seen for pain, nausea, vomiting, and other symptoms. The mean symptom score (1 point for one symptom) was higher in patients with cancer compared with those without (3.1 vs. 2.4; P < 0.001). The duration score (1 to 4 points for durations of less than 6, less than 12, less than 24, and more than 24 months) was lower (1.3 vs. 1.8; P < 0.001) in cancer patients. In three-quarters of cancer patients the duration of symptoms was shorter than 6 months.

Conclusions: Symptoms suggesting gastric cancer are gastrointestinal bleeding, weight loss, and to a lesser degree anorexia and fatigue. Gastric cancer patients show a greater intensity but shorter duration of symptoms than patients with no cancer. Age and alarm symptoms cannot determine the need for upper gastrointestinal endoscopy, at least in areas of high prevalence of gastric cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Dyspepsia / etiology*
  • Endoscopy, Digestive System*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Stomach Neoplasms / complications
  • Stomach Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Stomach Neoplasms / epidemiology