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Last Updated: Sunday, 13 July, 2003, 23:19 GMT 00:19 UK
Aneurysm screening possible
Men are more likely to suffer an aortic aneurysm
Every man over the age of 65 could be screened for dangerous swelling around the heart.

Government experts are investigating whether the NHS should screen patients for aortic aneurysms.

This potentially fatal condition occurs when the major blood vessel from the heart - the aorta - swells and ruptures.

Men are six times more likely to have an aneurysm than women.

Poor survival

If an aneurysm ruptures the chances of survival are low, with half of patients never reaching hospital.

Currently, the only effective treatment is to repair them by surgery.

The work that we have done has shown that screening is cost effective and beneficial
Mr Alan Scott

The UK National Screening Committee is considering whether men over the age of 65 should be routinely screened for the condition.

It follows a study by the Medical Research Council, published last year, which suggested that screening could save thousands of lives each year.

Researchers screened 67,800 men aged 65 and older for the condition.

Men who had aneurysms of larger than 3cm were closely monitored, and underwent surgery when it was thought necessary.

As a result, the death rate among this group was 52% lower than among men who were not screened.

These men were also more likely to survive after undergoing surgery.

Cost implications

The National Screening Committee has commissioned a study to examine the cost implications of introducing an aneurysm screening programme.

The researchers who are carrying out that study are expected to report their findings next year.

Committee members will then decide whether or not to recommend the introduction of a screening programme to ministers.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "The National Screening Committee has commissioned a further study on the feasibility of the proposals, opportunity costs, and the likely costs of performing screening in those centres not involved in the studies and will make recommendations in the early half of 2004."

Mr Alan Scott, who headed the Medical Research Council study into the effectiveness of a screening programme, welcomed the move.

"The work that we have done has shown that screening is cost effective and beneficial," he told BBC News Online.

Mr Scott suggested that screening all men over the age of 65 for aortic aneurysms would cost just 23 per scan and 63 if treatment is included.

"The plan would be to screen men once at 65. This should reduce their risk of serious problems for 10 years," he said.

"I would hope they would introduce screening in the near future."

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