The aim of this study was to determine the effectiveness of a triage system in predicting patients with malignancy among those referred to a specialist breast clinic.Methods
A retrospective study of all referrals seen at the specialist breast clinic from January 2002 to June 2002 was conducted. The triage system allocated an urgent appointment if (i) urgent referral was requested by the referring physicians or (ii) ‘non-urgent referral’ was made and any one of the following ‘high-risk’ criteria were present: aged more than 50 years when presenting with breast lump, lump larger than 3 cm, bloody nipple discharge or physical signs suggestive of malignancy. Routine appointment was given if these conditions were not met. The outcomes of individual groups were assessed.Results
Three hundred and sixty-three referrals were analysed and 44 cancers (13.2%) were diagnosed. The mean waiting time for urgent and routine appointments was 19 and 154 days, respectively. There were 108 urgent referrals and 21 (19.4%) cancers were diagnosed. Ninety-two patients were given an urgent appointment because of the presence of high-risk criteria, and 21 cancers were detected (22.8%). After the two-stage triage, breast cancer was subsequently diagnosed in only 2 out of the remaining 163 patients (1.2%) given a routine appointment.Conclusion
Most of the patients with cancer (96%) were given an urgent appointment through the triage system. In addition to the assessment by referring physicians, certain high-risk criteria are helpful to select patients who should be seen urgently.