Aortic screening programme in the UK could save lives at reasonable cost

A national aortic screening programme in the UK could save lives at reasonable cost, say researchers in this week's BMJ.

Every year in England and Wales about 6,000 men die from a ruptured aortic aneurysm (caused by ballooning of the artery wall) yet aortic aneurysms can be detected with a simple ultrasound scan.

A recent study found that screening reduced deaths by 42% and is as cost effective as other current screening programmes.

In Gloucestershire, an aneurysm screening programme has been running for 13 years and deaths from aneurysm disease in the region have fallen. The project shows the potential benefits of a national programme and how it could be run.

The scientific arguments for a national screening programme for aneurysms are cogent, write the authors. "We believe that the United Kingdom's family doctor based health system puts it in an ideal position to be the first country to start national screening. The final decision is now political."

If the Gloucestershire pilot were reproduced nationally, the cost would be less than £50m per year, and ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm could become a national rarity, says a surgeon in an accompanying editorial. However, more data are needed before adopting a national programme.

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