ROC curves for the initial assessment of new diagnostic tests

Fam Pract. 1992 Dec;9(4):506-11. doi: 10.1093/fampra/9.4.506.


New diagnostic tests are mainly evaluated by determining the sensitivity and specificity of the test. These test characteristics were originally meant to be used in making diagnoses. For evaluative purposes their usefulness is weakened by their susceptibility to selection and their dependence on the cut-off points that are used for test positivity. The plotting of a receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve might be a solution to these problems. Furthermore, the ROC curve yields a measure for the diagnostic power of the test expressed in one number instead of two, namely the area under the curve (AUC). Finally, the ROC curve and its AUC permit easy comparison of different tests and the performance of different interpreters of one test. The construction and use of ROC curves are described and illustrated with data of a case-referent investigation into the relationship between iron status parameters and the presence of acute myocardial infarction. The AUCs of ferritin and serum iron, 0.61 and 0.68 respectively, are too low to suggest meaningful usefulness in clinical practice.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Iron / blood*
  • Myocardial Infarction / diagnosis*
  • ROC Curve*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • Iron