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Background: Unexpected weight loss is a presenting feature of cancer in primary care. Data from primary care are lacking to quantify how much weight loss over what period should trigger further investigation for cancer. This research aimed to quantify cancer diagnosis rates associated with measured weight change in people attending primary care. Methods: Retrospective cohort study of primary care electronic health records data linked to the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results cancer registry (Integrated healthcare delivery system in Washington State, United States). Multivariable Cox regression incorporating time varying covariates using splines to model non-linear associations (age, percentage weight change, and weight change interval). Fifty thousand randomly selected patients aged 40 years and over followed for up to 9 years (1 January 2006 to 31 December 2014). Outcome measures are hazard ratios (95% confidence intervals) to quantify the association between percentage weight change and cancer diagnosis for all cancers combined, individual cancer sites and stages; percentage risk of cancer diagnosis within 6 months of the end of each weight change episode; and the positive predictive value for cancer diagnosis. Results: There were 43 302 included in the analysis after exclusions. Over 287 858 patient-years of follow-up, including 24 272 (56.1%) females, 23 980 (55.4%) aged 40 to 59 years, 15 113 (34.9%) 60 to 79 years, and 4209 (9.7%) aged 80 years and over. Adjusted hazard ratios (95% confidence interval) for cancer diagnosis in a 60 years old ranged from 1.04 (1.02 to 1.05, P 

Original publication




Journal article


Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle

Publication Date





2492 - 2503