A pragmatic comparative study of palliative care clinician’s reports of the degree of shadowing visible on plain abdominal radiographs

Katherine Clark, L. Lam, N. J. Talley, G. Watts, J. L. Phillips, N. J. Byfieldt, D. C. Currow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


The assessment of constipation symptoms is based on history and physical examination. However, the experience is highly subjective perhaps explaining why palliative medicine doctors continue to use plain abdominal radiographs as part of routine assessment of constipation. Previous studies have demonstrated poor agreement between clinicians with this work in palliative care, limited further by disparity of clinicians’ experience and training. The aim of this work was to explore whether there was less variation in the assessments of faecal shadowing made by more experienced clinicians compared to their less experienced colleagues. This pragmatic study was conducted across six palliative care services in Sydney (NSW, Australia). Doctors of varying clinical experience were asked to independently report their opinions of the amount of shadowing seen on 10 plain abdominal radiographs all taken from cancer patients who self-identified themselves as constipated. There were 46 doctors of varying clinical experience who participated including qualified specialists, doctors in specialist training and lastly, doctors in their second- and third post-graduate years. Poor agreement was seen between the faecal shadowing scores allocated by doctors of similar experience and training (Fleiss’s kappa (FK): RMO 0.05; registrar 0.06; specialist 0.11). Further, when the levels of agreement between groups were considered, no statistically significant differences were observed. Although the doctors did not agree on the appearance of the film, the majority felt they were able to extrapolate patients’ experiences from the radiograph’s appearance. As it remains challenging in palliative care to objectively assess and diagnose constipation by history and imaging, uniform and objective assessment and diagnostic criteria are required. It is likely that any agreed criteria will include a combination of imaging and history. The results suggest the use of radiographs alone to diagnose and assess constipation in palliative care represents low value care.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3749-3754
Number of pages6
JournalSupportive Care in Cancer
Publication statusPublished - 7 May 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Abdominal radiographs
  • Advanced cancer
  • Constipation
  • Palliative care


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