Background & aims: Current guidelines recommend empirical, noninvasive approaches to manage dyspeptic patients without alarm symptoms, but concerns about missed lesions persist; the cost savings afforded by noninvasive approaches must be weighed against treatment delays. We investigated the prevalence of malignancies and other serious abnormalities in patients with dyspepsia and the cost of detecting these by endoscopy.
Methods: We studied 2741 primary-care outpatients, 18-70 years in age, who met Rome II criteria for dyspepsia. Patients with alarm features (dysphagia, bleeding, weight loss, etc) were excluded. All patients underwent endoscopy. The cost and diagnostic yield of an early endoscopy strategy in all patients were compared with those of endoscopy limited to age-defined cohorts. Costs were calculated for a low, intermediate, and high cost environment.
Results: Endoscopies detected abnormalities in 635 patients (23%). The most common findings were reflux esophagitis with erosions (15%), gastric ulcers (2.7%), and duodenal ulcers (2.3%). The prevalence of upper gastrointestinal malignancy was 0.22%. If all dyspeptic patients 50 years or older underwent endoscopy, 1 esophageal cancer and no gastric cancers would have been missed. If the age threshold for endoscopy were set at 50 years, at a cost of $500/endoscopy, it would cost $82,900 (95% CI, $35,714-$250,000) to detect each case of cancer.
Conclusions: Primary care dyspeptic patients without alarm symptoms rarely have serious underlying conditions at endoscopy. The costs associated with diagnosing an occult malignancy are large, but an age cut-off of 50 years for early endoscopy provides the best assurance that an occult malignancy will not be missed.