Diagnostic tests and algorithms used in the investigation of haematuria: systematic reviews and economic evaluation

Authors: Rodgers M, Nixon J, Hempel S, Aho T, Kelly J, Neal D, Duffy S, Ritchie G, Kleijnen J, Westwood M

Journal: Health Technology Assessment Volume: 10 Issue: 18

Publication date: June 2006

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3310/hta10180


Rodgers M, Nixon J, Hempel S, Aho T, Kelly J, Neal D, et al.Diagnostic tests and algorithms used in the investigation of haematuria: systematic reviews and economic evaluation. Health Technol Assess 2006;10(18)

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To determine the most effective diagnostic strategy for the investigation of microscopic and macroscopic haematuria in adults.

Data sources

Electronic databases from inception to October 2003, updated in August 2004.

Review methods

A systematic review was undertaken according to published guidelines. Decision analytic modelling was undertaken, based on the findings of the review, expert opinion and additional information from the literature, to assess the relative cost-effectiveness of plausible alternative tests that are part of diagnostic algorithms for haematuria.


A total of 118 studies met the inclusion criteria. No studies that evaluated the effectiveness of diagnostic algorithms for haematuria or the effectiveness of screening for haematuria or investigating its underlying cause were identified. Eighteen out of 19 identified studies evaluated dipstick tests and data from these suggested that these are moderately useful in establishing the presence of, but cannot be used to rule out, haematuria. Six studies using haematuria as a test for the presence of a disease indicated that the detection of microhaematuria cannot alone be considered a useful test either to rule in or rule out the presence of a significant underlying pathology (urinary calculi or bladder cancer). Forty-eight of 80 studies addressed methods to localise the source of bleeding (renal or lower urinary tract). The methods and thresholds described in these studies varied greatly, precluding any estimate of a 'best performance' threshold that could be applied across patient groups. However, studies of red blood cell morphology that used a cut-off value of 80% dysmorphic cells for glomerular disease reported consistently high specificities (potentially useful in ruling in a renal cause for haematuria). The reported sensitivities were generally low. Twenty-eight studies included data on the accuracy of laboratory tests (tumour markers, cytology) for the diagnosis of bladder cancer. The majority of tumour marker studies evaluated nuclear matrix protein 22 or bladder tumour antigen. The sensitivity and specificity ranges suggested that neither of these would be useful either for diagnosing bladder cancer or for ruling out patients for further investigation (cystoscopy). However, the evidence remains sparse and the diagnostic accuracy estimates varied widely between studies. Fifteen studies evaluating urine cytology as a test for urinary tract malignancies were heterogeneous and poorly reported. The calculated specificity values were generally high, suggesting some possible utility in confirming malignancy. However, the evidence suggests that urine cytology has no application in ruling out malignancy or excluding patients from further investigation. Fifteen studies evaluated imaging techniques [computed tomography (CT), intravenous urography (IVU) or ultrasound scanning (US)] to detect the underlying cause of haematuria. The target condition and the reference standard varied greatly between these studies. The diagnostic accuracy data for several individual studies appeared promising but meaningful comparison of the available imaging technologies was impossible. Eight studies met the inclusion criteria but addressed different parts of the diagnostic chain (e.g. screening programmes, laboratory investigations, full urological work-up). No single study addressed the complete diagnostic process. The review also highlighted a number of methodological limitations of these studies, including their lack of generalisability to the UK context. Separate decision analytic models were therefore developed to progress estimation of the optimal strategy for the diagnostic management of haematuria. The economic model for the detection of microhaematuria found that immediate microscopy following a positive dipstick test would improve diagnostic efficiency as it eliminates the high number of false positives produced by dipstick testing. Strategies that use routine microscopy may be associated with high numbers of false results, but evidence was lacking regarding the accuracy of routine microscopy and estimates were adopted for the model. The model for imaging the upper urinary tract showed that US detects more tumours than IVU at one-third of the cost, and is also associated with fewer false results. For any cause of haematuria, CT was shown to have a mean incremental cost-effectiveness ratio of pounds sterling 9939 in comparison with the next best option, US. When US is followed up with CT for negative results with persistent haematuria, it dominates the initial use of CT alone, with a saving of pounds sterling 235,000 for the evaluation of 1000 patients. The model for investigation of the lower urinary tract showed that for low-risk patients the use of immediate cystoscopy could be avoided if cystoscopy were used for follow-up patients with a negative initial test using tumour markers and/or cytology, resulting in a saving of pounds sterling 483,000 for the evaluation of 1000 patients. The clinical and economic impact on delayed detection of both upper and lower urinary tract tumours through the use of follow-up testing should be evaluated in future studies.


There are insufficient data currently available to derive an evidence-based algorithm of the diagnostic pathway for haematuria. A hypothetical algorithm based on the opinion and practice of clinical experts in the review team, other published algorithms and the results of economic modelling is presented in this report. This algorithm is presented, for comparative purposes, alongside current US and UK guidelines. The ideas contained in these algorithms and the specific questions outlined should form the basis of future research. Quality assessment of the diagnostic accuracy studies included in this review highlighted several areas of deficiency.

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