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Quantifying patient preferences for symptomatic breast clinic referral: a decision analysis study.

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Version 2 2021-10-22, 11:17
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journal contribution
posted on 2021-10-22, 11:17 authored by Aisling Quinlan, Kirsty K. O'Brien, Rose Galvin, Colin Hardy, Ronan McDonnell, Doireann Joyce, Ronald McDowell, Emma Aherne, Claire Keogh, Katriona O'Sullivan, Tom FaheyTom Fahey

OBJECTIVES: Decision analysis study that incorporates patient preferences and probability estimates to investigate the impact of women's preferences for referral or an alternative strategy of watchful waiting if faced with symptoms that could be due to breast cancer.

SETTING: Community-based study.

PARTICIPANTS: Asymptomatic women aged 30-60 years.

INTERVENTIONS: Participants were presented with 11 health scenarios that represent the possible consequences of symptomatic breast problems. Participants were asked the risk of death that they were willing to take in order to avoid the health scenario using the standard gamble utility method. This process was repeated for all 11 health scenarios. Formal decision analysis for the preferred individual decision was then estimated for each participant.

PRIMARY OUTCOME MEASURE: The preferred diagnostic strategy was either watchful waiting or referral to a breast clinic. Sensitivity analysis was used to examine how each varied according to changes in the probabilities of the health scenarios.

RESULTS: A total of 35 participants completed the interviews, with a median age 41 years (IQR 35-47 years). The majority of the study sample was employed (n=32, 91.4%), with a third-level (university) education (n=32, 91.4%) and with knowledge of someone with breast cancer (n=30, 85.7%). When individual preferences were accounted for, 25 (71.4%) patients preferred watchful waiting to referral for triple assessment as their preferred initial diagnostic strategy. Sensitivity analysis shows that referral for triple assessment becomes the dominant strategy at the upper probability estimate (18%) of breast cancer in the community.

CONCLUSIONS: Watchful waiting is an acceptable strategy for most women who present to their general practitioner (GP) with breast symptoms. These findings suggest that current referral guidelines should take more explicit account of women's preferences in relation to their GPs initial management strategy.


Health Research Board of Ireland grant number HRC-2007-1.



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Published Citation

Quinlan A, O'Brien KK, Galvin R, Hardy C, McDonnell R, Joyce , McDowell RD, Aherne E, Keogh C, O'Sullivan K, Fahey T. Quantifying patient preferences for symptomatic breast clinic referral: a decision analysis study. BMJ Open. 2018;8(5):e017286.

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  • General Practice
  • HRB Centre for Primary Care Research

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