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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 August, 2004, 12:42 GMT 13:42 UK
Screening call for silent killer
Image of a man with an acute episode
The risk is 10 times higher in men
Pressure is mounting for men to be screened for a blood vessel disease that kills about 6,000 a year.

The Men's Health Forum and MP Howard Stoate want government action to tackle the condition called abdominal aortic aneurysm.

This swelling in the major blood vessel from the heart can go unnoticed, but can be deadly if it bursts.

Scanning men aged 60 and older to detect the condition could save thousands of lives, say experts.

In an Early Day Motion in the Houses of Parliament, Dr Howard Stoate MP asked the Secretary of State for Health to launch a screening programme for those most vulnerable, men over 60.

Only one scan is needed to give lifetime protection, and the treatment is as near a cure as is possible in medicine
Dr Ian Banks, Men's Health Forum

Studies have been looking into the feasibility and benefits of screening men over the age of 65, but Dr Stoate and the Men's Health Forum believe men as young as 60 should be offered screening to save more lives.

Peter Baker, director of the Men's Health Forum said: "You would catch even more. It should be looked at for men over 60. That's what we should be aiming for," he said.

Abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAAs) are 10 times as common in men as in women, and smoking, high blood pressure and stress are contributory factors.

They occur when an artery's wall breaks down and starts to stretch. Like a blow-out in a car tyre, this area of weakness can burst, usually causing death.

If they are detected at an early stage they are usually treatable. If a ruptured aneurysm is treated as an emergency, mortality exceeds 50% in most hospitals.

If the aneurysm can be detected earlier and treatment is planned in advance, mortality falls to 3%.

A simple ultrasound scan can pick up the abnormality.

Simple screen

Dr Stoate said: "The research shows that a screening programme could save thousands of lives and would meet the government's criteria for establishing a scheme," he said.

A recent study of men over 65 in Gloucestershire found screening for AAA reduced the death rate from ruptured aneurysm by 42% after four years of follow up.

The screening programme has been running for 13 years at an annual cost of 43,000.

It is thought a nationwide roll out would cost 50m a year.

Dr Ian Banks, president of the Men's Health Forum and a GP and part-time casualty doctor said: "Aneurysms kill more men than colon cancer.

"Bowel cancer screening is now being introduced and the same action should be taken for AAAs.

"Early diagnosis is crucial as is wider action to tackle the underlying causes of aneurysms, especially smoking, obesity and hypertension.

"Unlike other existing screening programmes, only one scan is needed to give lifetime protection, and the treatment is as near a cure as is possible in medicine."

A spokeswoman from the Department of Helath said the government's National Screening Committee was "considering the feasibility" of implementing a screening programme for abdominal aortic aneurysms, including resource costs of screening and of surgery.

It will report later this year.

The British Heart Foundation said it supported the call for routine screening of those most at risk.

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