If the poor prognosis for patients with adenocarcinoma of the stomach is to be improved, it is important to make the diagnosis at an early stage. In order to evaluate our routine diagnostic practice, we have performed a retrospective study of patients in the Portsmouth and Oxford Health Districts who were diagnosed as having adenocarcinoma of the stomach during 1979 and 1980. Three hundred and forty-two patients were identified; the great majority had advanced disease at the first presentation. Only 9 patients (2.6%) were identified as having early gastric carcinoma and a total of 46 patients (13.4%) had either Stage 1 or 2 disease. Despite the provision of an endoscopy service, gastric carcinoma is still being diagnosed at an advanced stage. Initial false negative investigations caused a delay in diagnosis in 18.4% of patients. During the year preceding diagnosis (when tumour was likely to have been present), the false negative rate for barium meal examination was 25.5% and for endoscopy 13.5%. Negative results should not deter us from pursuing the diagnosis of tumour in those patients with persisting symptoms.
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