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A key alarm symptom set out in the two-week referral guidelines for gastrointestinal cancer is actually a negative predictor of cancer, according to new research.

The study concluded the referral guidelines should be replaced by a narrower set of criteria after finding that patients who presented with uncomplicated dyspepsia were highly unlikely to have cancer.

Older patients with uncomplicated dyspepsia accounted for a fifth of referrals but only 0.3 per cent of cancers.

The researchers suggested a new model, only recommending referral if dyspepsia presented with another alarm feature, could reduce fast-track referrals by almost a third.

The study analysed 1,852 fast-track referrals in Liverpool between 2000/2. The results will be published in January's edition of Gut.

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