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GP assessment of breast lumps has low specificity

By Lilian Anekwe

The specificity of GP assessments of breast lumps is low, according to a UK study which is the first to compare the accuracy of women and GPs in detecting true breast cancer lumps.

The records of 282 women referred to a hospital between October 2008 and March 2009 were analysed, detailing the patient's self-described symptoms, the signs recorded by the GP and the examination findings of a specialist breast clinician compared.

Just over 80% of the women referred did have a true breast lump. Women were 95% sensitive and 59% specific in detecting a true lump and GPs were 98% sensitive and 34% specific.

Dr Jill Donnelly, a specialist breast cancer clinician at Hereford Hospitals NHS Trust and author of the study, said the high specificity of both GP and patient breast assessment was ‘encouraging', but added specificity of GP examination was low.

Dr Donnelly concluded: ‘If a woman consults her GP with breast symptoms, but has not found a lump, it is safe for her GP not to find one either. Such patients can be reassured and reviewed after a month with a view to referral, if symptoms persist.'

International Journal of Clinical Practice, March 2010, 64, 4, 439-441.

GP assessment of breast lumps has low specificity


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