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Summary

Introduction:  Increasing life expectancy in the general population has led to a rise in the incidence of cancer and new challenges with regard to the diagnosis, therapy and prognosis of this disease.

Aim:  To assess prognostic factors in the initial work-up of patients ultimately diagnosed with cancer in an Internal Medicine Service, particularly those related with age.

Patients and methods:  A prospective study was undertaken with 224 patients ultimately diagnosed with cancer, as confirmed by histological or cytological study. The neoplasms included respiratory, gastrointestinal, genitourinary, metastatic adenocarcinoma of unknown origin, gynaecological, hepatobiliary and others. Before reaching the diagnosis, the following factors were investigated in all patients: functional status [Karnofsky Performance Status (KPS)], comorbidity (Charlson scale), body mass index (BMI), serum cholesterol and albumin concentrations, cognitive level (Mini-mental test), quality of life (Short Form 36 questionnaire), and extension of the disease according to established criteria. Survival at 1 year was analysed. Statistical analyses were done with spss 11.0 for Windows, using a forward stepwise (likelihood ratio) method to construct the model and a Cox multivariate model for the survival analysis.

Results:  A total of 224 patients, 167 men (74.5%) and 57 women (25.5%), with a mean age of 66.1 ± 12.3 years were studied. KPS was ≥ 70 in 84% and comorbidity was zero or one in 74%. BMI was 24.25 ± 4.3, cholesterol 180.7 ± 4.3, albumin 3.32 ± 0.5 and Mini-mental score 25.4 ± 3.7. Metastasis was seen in 131 patients (58.5%) and local disease in 93 cases (41.5%). One-year survival was 38.8% (87 patients) with a mean of 203.8 ± 143 days. In the Cox analysis, the independent predictive factors for survival were KPS [hazard ratio (HR) = 0.951; 95% CI = 0.930–0.974; p < 0.01], metastatic dissemination (HR = 2.422; 95% CI = 1.643–3.571; p < 0.01), physical quality of life (HR = 0.978; 95% CI = 0.962–0.995; p < 0.01) and albumin (HR = 0.653; 95% CI = 0.455–0.936; p < 0.01).

Conclusions:  In the initial work-up of patients ultimately diagnosed with cancer in an Internal Medicine Service, functional status, dissemination, the physical component in the quality of life scale and serum albumin levels were independent prognostic factors for survival. Age was not an independent prognostic factor and should not be used as a basis for adopting diagnostic or therapeutic decisions in these patients.