Background: Small abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAAs; 3.0-5.4 cm in diameter) are usually asymptomatic and managed by regular ultrasound surveillance until they grow to a diameter threshold (commonly 5.5 cm) at which surgical intervention is considered. The choice of appropriate surveillance intervals is governed by the growth and rupture rates of small AAAs, as well as their relative cost-effectiveness.
Objectives: The aim of this series of studies was to inform the evidence base for small AAA surveillance strategies. This was achieved by literature review, collation and analysis of individual patient data, a focus group and health economic modelling.
Data sources: We undertook systematic literature reviews of growth rates and rupture rates of small AAAs. The databases MEDLINE, EMBASE on OvidSP, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials 2009 Issue 4, ClinicalTrials.gov, and controlled-trials.com were searched from inception up until the end of 2009. We also obtained individual data on 15,475 patients from 18 surveillance studies.
Review methods: Systematic reviews of publications identified 15 studies providing small AAA growth rates, and 14 studies with small AAA rupture rates, up to December 2009 (later updated to September 2012). We developed statistical methods to analyse individual surveillance data, including the effects of patient characteristics, to inform the choice of surveillance intervals and provide inputs for health economic modelling. We updated an existing health economic model of AAA screening to address the cost-effectiveness of different surveillance intervals.
Results: In the literature reviews, the mean growth rate was 2.3 mm/year and the reported rupture rates varied between 0 and 1.6 ruptures per 100 person-years. Growth rates increased markedly with aneurysm diameter, but insufficient detail was available to guide surveillance intervals. Based on individual surveillance data, for each 0.5-cm increase in AAA diameter, growth rates increased by about 0.5 mm/year and rupture rates doubled. To control the risk of exceeding 5.5 cm to below 10% in men, on average a 7-year surveillance interval is sufficient for a 3.0-cm aneurysm, whereas an 8-month interval is necessary for a 5.0-cm aneurysm. To control the risk of rupture to below 1%, the corresponding estimated surveillance intervals are 9 years and 17 months. Average growth rates were higher in smokers (by 0.35 mm/year) and lower in patients with diabetes (by 0.51 mm/year). Rupture rates were almost fourfold higher in women than men, doubled in current smokers and increased with higher blood pressure. Increasing the surveillance interval from 1 to 2 years for the smallest aneurysms (3.0-4.4 cm) decreased costs and led to a positive net benefit. For the larger aneurysms (4.5-5.4 cm), increasing surveillance intervals from 3 to 6 months led to equivalent cost-effectiveness.
Limitations: There were no clear reasons why the growth rates varied substantially between studies. Uniform diagnostic criteria for rupture were not available. The long-term cost-effectiveness results may be susceptible to the modelling assumptions made.
Conclusions: Surveillance intervals of several years are clinically acceptable for men with AAAs in the range 3.0-4.0 cm. Intervals of around 1 year are suitable for 4.0-4.9-cm AAAs, whereas intervals of 6 months would be acceptable for 5.0-5.4-cm AAAs. These intervals are longer than those currently employed in the UK AAA screening programmes. Lengthening surveillance intervals for the smallest aneurysms was also shown to be cost-effective. Future work should focus on optimising surveillance intervals for women, studying whether or not the threshold for surgery should depend on patient characteristics, evaluating the usefulness of surveillance for those with aortic diameters of 2.5-2.9 cm, and developing interventions that may reduce the growth or rupture rates of small AAAs.
Funding: The National Institute for Health Research Health Technology Assessment programme.