In this report it was found that rates of overall carotid revascularization have decreased from 1998 to 2008 in a nationally-representative sample of US hospital discharge records. This reduction was noted even as the median age of US adults increased over the study period [21
]. The decrease in revascularization was primarily the result of a reduction in the number of carotid endarterectomy procedures, despite a realized increase in carotid artery stenting. Between 1998 and 2008, the rate of CEA decreased by 36%, while that of CAS increased by 5%. These results are in agreement with, and an extension of, previous reports investigating utilization trends of these interventions [20
At present, there is lack of clear clinical directive on which intervention may be superior for primary or secondary stroke prevention. As reported here, carotid endarterectomy has been, and likely will continue to be, the much more widely utilized procedure. From 1998 to 2008, CEA use has decreased by about one third, yet the overall rate of procedures during that time exceeds that of CAS by an order of magnitude. If patients most at risk for procedural complications avoid the surgery, the 5-year risk of stroke or death may be reduced 5 to 6% as compared to medical management alone [7
]. However, two caveats must be addressed. First, absolute risk reduction is much more nuanced than the quoted 5 to 6% when patient-specific factors and longer follow-up times are taken into account [24
]. Second, medical management of stroke has been refined since early CEA trials comparing the two approaches, and today nearly all patients at risk for stroke are prescribed antihypertensive, antiplatelet, and lipid-lowering therapies. Such an aggressive regimen may be effectively reducing stroke risk and the subsequent need for surgery, particularly in asymptomatic patients [25
In contrast, rates of carotid artery stenting were found to increase significantly over the study period. The highest rates of intervention were noted in 2006, with a 25% decrease from 2006 to 2008. Interestingly, nearly the lowest rates of CEA occurred in 2006. In 2004, the results of the SAPPHIRE trial were published, indicating that CAS with embolic protection was not inferior to CEA for the prevention of stroke in select patients [11
]. That same year the first FDA-approved carotid artery stent was introduced, and, in early 2005, the CMS expanded its reimbursement policies for CAS [18
]. Investigation of a correlation between these events is beyond the scope of this work, but it is an intriguing prospect. It remains to be seen if the overall increase in CAS reported here will continue going forward. The recently-published CREST [12
] and ICSS [13
] trials failed to provide consensus on which procedure conferred the greater benefit, and so future studies in this area will be welcomed. Of interest is the SPACE2 trial, which will compare the effectiveness of best medical management vs. CEA vs. CAS [26
A primary aim of this study was to identify specific patient demographic factors that may have changed over time, and to examine their potential influence on procedure rates. Among those factors analyzed, there was a significant decrease in the percentage of patients identifying as white who received intervention. This decrease remained significant for total CEA and CAS rates, as well as for CEA (P < 0.0001) and CAS (P = 0.02) independently. However, whites were still the overwhelming recipients of carotid revascularization. Although there is an overall higher number of whites in the general population [21
], part of the explanation may also be that white patients are more commonly affected by atherosclerotic carotid artery disease than non-whites [27
]. Within the context of endarterectomy specifically, several studies have provided some understanding into why minority patients may be less likely to have surgery. Black patients were found to have higher rates of complicating comorbid conditions [28
] and faced increased barriers to quality care [29
]. In addition, there are racial differences in the decision to have surgery, with blacks significantly more averse than whites to CEA [30
]. Despite these findings, it has been reported that when clinically indicated and adjusting for ancillary factors, any difference in the delivery of CEA between white and non-white patients is attenuated [31
When the additional factors of age, gender, payer source, and time were included in multivariate models, it was found that age, gender, race, and time were significant predictors of either CEA or CAS. Increased age, male gender, white race, and earlier in the study period were significant positive predictors of CEA use. Payer source did not reach statistical significance in either model, nor did it change significantly over time in the univariate model. As noted in Table , Medicare was listed as the primary payer in 73% of cases throughout the study period. Despite the current reimbursement limitation for carotid artery stenting by the CMS, rates continued to increase over the study period. This may suggest that, other factors notwithstanding, CAS delivery may accelerate should this limitation be lifted in the future.
Several limitations to this study should be noted. First, as described elsewhere, the algorithm used to capture carotid artery stenting prior to 2004 suffers from a lack of certainty in the identification of "true" CAS cases [20
]. However, any bias introduced as a result would be systematic, and tend not to influence the change in rates of CAS over time. Also, the data used in this report was taken from a de-identified, discharge-based database. Therefore, the denominators used to calculate intervention rates likely represent several non-unique patients, which may artificially lower the numbers presented here. Finally, this work is a comment on the change over time of CEA and CAS, and as such, does not provide the ability to explain unambiguously why these changes have occurred. Importantly, the third side to the stroke prevention triad, medical management, was excluded from analysis here. How the revision in medical therapy for stroke and stroke prevention has contributed to the change in rates in this study population is unknown.
In conclusion, it was found that overall rates of carotid revascularization have decreased from 1998-2008 in a nationally-representative sample of US hospital discharges. This decrease was primarily the result of a reduction in the number of carotid endarterectomy procedures, despite an increase in the rate of carotid artery stenting. Among the patient-specific factors analyzed, race changed significantly over time, and age, gender, race, and time significantly predict utilization of intervention. Several recent reports investigating the utility of CEA as compared to CAS for the prevention of stroke have been published. However, future work remains to adequately inform the deployment of these interventions to the patients for whom the greatest benefit will be conferred.