Abdominal aortic aneurysms can be fatal if they burst
A programme to screen 65-year-old men in England for a potentially fatal blood vessel condition could halve deaths, analysis shows.
Ten years of data from a large trial found 155 deaths from abdominal aortic aneurysms in those screened compared with 296 in those not tested.
However, a Danish study also published in the British Medical Journal questioned the expense of screening.
All eligible men in England will be tested for the condition by 2013.
It was the initial findings of the English trial of 67,770 men that prompted the government to set up an aneurysm screening programme.
Currently running in six areas of England, it will be rolled out across the country over the next four years and also, programme leaders hope, to the rest of the UK.
The latest results show that a one-off screening test - which is done by ultrasound - is effective over a longer period of time than previously measured.
Deaths from abdominal aortic aneurysm were cut by 42% at four years, 47% at seven years, and 48% at 10 years.
Researchers also found that screening became more cost effective over time at £7,600 per year of life gained after 10 years.
However, to muddy the waters, a second study by Danish researchers who used a computer model to assess benefits of screening, found it may too expensive to be worthwhile.
They said their estimates that were "more realistic" than other studies.
Every year in England and Wales about 6,000 men die from a burst aortic aneurysm which is caused by ballooning of the artery wall.
Professor Simon Thompson from the Medical Research Council who analysed the English data said the evidence that the programme would save deaths and be extremely cost effective for the NHS was clear.
"We found that about half of all aneurysm-related deaths could be prevented by screening."
He added that the Danish paper seemed to contradict much of the other research but that analyses should continue as the programme progresses.
Jonothan Earnshaw, a vascular surgeon and director of the national screening programme, said the latest study was very important.
"It shows it becomes more and more beneficial as time goes by."
He said screening had been happening for 20 years in his area in Gloucester and now burst aneurysms were "almost non-existent".
"In the screening programme, the early adopters are just about all sorted and there are another four to start in the autumn.
"We'll be gradually rolling out until 2013."
He added they would "take notice" of the Danish research but they would also be monitoring the screening programme closely to check it was having the predicted benefits.