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New screening plans doubts

18th April 2008

A leading vascular surgeon has cast doubt on a screening programme in England for abdominal aortic aneurysm.

heart surgery

James Johnson has claimed that surgery to prevent a rupture could be even riskier than leaving the aneurysm untreated.

The government is planning an ultrasound scan screening for abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) for all men aged 65 and over with pilots starting this year.

AAA, which causes the body’s major artery to burst, claims 3,000 lives a year, mainly among older men. Ministers believe the screening programme, which has the backing of the Vascular Society, could save up to 700 lives a year.

The programme is male-only as men are six times more likely to have an aneurysm than women.

But Mr Johnson from the Halton Hospital in Runcorn, and a former leader of the British Medical Association, said the risk of death from surgery to repair aneurysms was 1 in 14.

He told the British Medical Journal: “We know that aneurysms with a diameter of less than 5.5 cm are so unlikely to burst that the mortality from operating on them is greater than the likelihood of rupture.?

He also said that in an otherwise healthy patient the risk of rupture is greater than that of surgery, but added that aneurysm patients are “seldom otherwise healthy? with many having high blood pressure, a history of heart attack and stroke.

However, the Department of Health said the screening programme move was supported by a “substantial body of evidence? and was a “good example of increasing preventive healthcare in the NHS.?

 

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