Missed diagnoses in patients with upper gastrointestinal cancers

Endoscopy. 2004 Oct;36(10):874-9. doi: 10.1055/s-2004-825853.


Background and study aims: A few studies have been published on cancers missed at previous endoscopy, but detailed analyses of the causes for failure were lacking. The aims of our study were to determine the incidence of and causes for failure to detect oesophageal and gastric cancers after referral of patients to a surgical endoscopy unit.

Patients and methods: Out of a consecutive series of 305 patients diagnosed with oesophageal and gastric cancers, we retrospectively identified patients who had undergone an endoscopy within 3 years before the diagnosis. The timing of previous endoscopies, indications for endoscopy, endoscopic findings and the number of biopsy specimens taken were recorded. Missed diagnoses were categorized as either definitely or possibly missed and the reasons for failure were documented.

Results: Of the 305 patients, 30 (9.8 %) had undergone a minimum of one endoscopy within the previous 3 years, 20 (67 %) of these within the previous 1 year. Sinister symptoms were present at the time of previous endoscopies in 75 % of patients with oesophageal cancer (n = 16) and in 57.2 % of patients with gastric cancer (n = 14). In 56 % of the patients with oesophageal cancers the initial diagnosis was oesophagitis or benign stricture; in 71.4 % of the patients with gastric cancers the initial diagnosis was gastritis, ulcer or "suspicious lesion". Among those patients with a definitely missed diagnosis (7.2 %), endoscopist errors accounted for the majority of failures (73 %) and the remainder were due to pathologist errors (27 %).

Conclusions: Missed cancers were a frequent finding in patients with oesophageal and gastric cancer who had undergone previous endoscopy, and errors by the endoscopists accounted for the majority of missed lesions. This study emphasizes the importance of identifying signs of early cancers and of having a low threshold for performing multiple biopsies of any suspicious-looking lesion.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Diagnostic Errors*
  • Early Diagnosis
  • Endoscopy, Gastrointestinal*
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Stomach Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Stomach Neoplasms / pathology
  • Time Factors