From the Journals

Task force advocates selective screening for abdominal aortic aneurysms



Men aged 65-75 years with a history of smoking should undergo one-time screening for abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAA), but clinicians can selectively screen men in this age group who don’t smoke, according to updated recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force published in JAMA.

Dr. Marc Schermerhorn

Dr. Marc Schermerhorn

The task force issued a B recommendation for screening men aged 65-75 years with a smoking history and a C recommendation for selectively screening male never smokers in this age group in an update to the previous recommendations issued in 2014.

The task force also recommended against screening for AAA in women with no history of smoking (D recommendation) and cited insufficient evidence to make recommendations about AAA screening for women with a history of smoking or a family history of AAA (I statement).

The current prevalence of AAA in the United States is unclear because of the low rate of screening, but data from countries including the United Kingdom, Sweden, Denmark, and New Zealand have shown a decline in AAA among screened men aged 65 years and older, according to the USPSTF report.

Risk factors for AAA include smoking, male gender, older age, and having a first-degree relative with AAA, the task force noted.

In an evidence review accompanying the recommendations, Janelle M. Guirguis-Blake, MD, of the University of Washington, Tacoma, and colleagues analyzed data from 33 studies. They found a significant reduction in AAA-related mortality over 12-15 years’ follow-up among men aged 65 years and older who underwent AAA screening, compared with unscreened controls (odds ratio, 0.65). In addition, the risk of ruptures related to AAA was significantly lower over 12-15 years among men who underwent screening, compared with unscreened controls (OR, 0.62). However, no significant difference was noted in all-cause mortality over 12-15 years between screened and unscreened groups (relative risk, 0.99; 95% confidence interval, 0.98-1.00).

Data from four studies of early surgery to treat small aneurysms showed no significant difference in AAA-related mortality or all-cause mortality.

“Screening for AAA entails a simple, noninvasive, and focused ultrasonography examination that costs roughly $50. The only potential harms are the psychologic burden of knowing of the presence of an aneurysm and the risk of elective surgery,” wrote Marc Schermerhorn, MD, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, in an accompanying editorial published in JAMA Surgery (doi: 10.1001/jamasurg.2019.5234).

“The latter can be calculated for each patient, weighed against the risk of rupture, and together with the estimated life expectancy, should be factored into the decision to screen and the decision to operate. We as a country can do better to detect and treat this disease cost effectively for all appropriate patients including women and elderly individuals,” he said.

Dr. Schermerhorn noted that overall the recommendations are reasonable, but he expressed concern for three populations excluded from the guidelines that warrant additional consideration: nonsmokers with equivalent risk factors, patients older than 75 years, and women. “In the meantime, we should work to ensure that patients determined appropriate by the USPSTF are actually screened,” he said.

The USPSTF is supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The researchers had no financial conflicts to disclose. Dr. Schermerhorn disclosed relationships with Abbott, Cook Medical, Endologix, Medtronic, and Philips.

SOURCE: Guirguis-Blake JM et al. JAMA. 2019. doi: 10.1001/jama.2019.17021.

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