BACKGROUND: Patients with brain tumours often present with non-specific symptoms. Correctly identifying who to prioritise for urgent brain imaging is challenging. Brain tumours are amongst the commonest cancers diagnosed as an emergency presentation. A verbal fluency task (VFT) is a rapid triage test affected by disorders of executive function, language and processing speed. We tested whether a VFT could support identification of patients with a brain tumour.
METHODS: This proof-of-concept study examined whether a VFT can help differentiate patients with a brain tumour from those with similar symptoms (i.e. headache) without a brain tumour. Two patient populations were recruited, (a) patients with known brain tumour, and (b) patients with headache referred for Direct-Access Computed-Tomography (DACT) from primary care with a suspicion of a brain tumour. Semantic and phonemic verbal fluency data were collected prospectively.
RESULTS: 180 brain tumour patients and 90 DACT patients were recruited. Semantic verbal fluency score was significantly worse for patients with a brain tumour than those without (P < 0.001), whether comparing patients with headache, or patients without headache. Phonemic fluency showed a similar but weaker difference. Raw and incidence-weighted positive and negative predictive values were calculated.
CONCLUSION: We have demonstrated the potential role of adding semantic VFT score performance into clinical decision making to support triage of patients for urgent brain imaging. A relatively small improvement in the true positive rate in patients referred for DACT has the potential to increase the timeliness and efficiency of diagnosis and improve patient outcomes.
|Publication status||Published - 4 Apr 2022|
- Brain tumour
- Early diagnosis of cancer
- Neurocognitive test
- Verbal fluency