The Medical Advisory Secretariat conducted a systematic review of the evidence on the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of endovascular repair of abdominal aortic aneurysm in comparison to open surgical repair. An abdominal aortic aneurysm [AAA] is the enlargement and weakening of the aorta (major blood artery) that may rupture and result in stroke and death. Endovascular abdominal aortic aneurysm repair [EVAR] is a procedure for repairing abdominal aortic aneurysms from within the blood vessel without open surgery. In this procedure, an aneurysm is excluded from blood circulation by an endograft (a device) delivered to the site of the aneurysm via a catheter inserted into an artery in the groin. The Medical Advisory Secretariat conducted a review of the evidence on the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of this technology. The review included 44 eligible articles out of 489 citations identified through a systematic literature search. Most of the research evidence is based on non-randomized comparative studies and case series. In the short-term, EVAR appears to be safe and comparable to open surgical repair in terms of survival. It is associated with less severe hemodynamic changes, less blood transfusion and shorter stay in the intensive care and hospital. However, there is concern about a high incidence of endoleak, requiring secondary interventions, and in some cases, conversion to open surgical repair. Current evidence does not support the use of EVAR in all patients. EVAR might benefit individuals who are not fit for surgical repair of abdominal aortic aneurysm and whose risk of rupture of the aneurysm outweighs the risk of death from EVAR. The long-term effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of EVAR cannot be determined at this time. Further evaluation of this technology is required.
The objective of this health technology policy assessment was to determine the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of endovascular repair of abdominal aortic aneurysms (EVAR) in comparison to open surgical repair (OSR).
An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is a localized, abnormal dilatation of the aorta greater than 3 cm or 50% of the aortic diameter at the diaphragm. (1) A true AAA involves all 3 layers of the vessel wall. If left untreated, the continuing extension and thinning of the vessel wall may eventually result in rupture of the AAA. The risk of death from ruptured AAA is 80% to 90%. (61) Heller et al. (44) analyzed information from a national hospital database in the United States. They found no significant change in the incidence rate of elective AAA repair or ruptured AAA presented to the nation’s hospitals. The investigators concluded that technologic and treatment advances over the past 19 years have not affected the outcomes of patients with AAAs, and the ability to identify and to treat patients with AAAs has not improved.
Classification of Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms
At least 90% of the AAAs are affected by atherosclerosis, and most of these aneurysms are below the level of the renal arteries.(1)
An abdominal aortic aneurysm may be symptomatic or asymptomatic. An AAA may be classified according to their sizes:(7)
Small aneurysms: less than 5 cm in diameter.
Medium aneurysms: 5-7cm.
Large aneurysms: more than 7 cm in diameter.
Small aneurysms account for approximately 50% of all clinically recognized aneurysms.(7)
Aortic aneurysms may be classified according to their gross appearance as follows (1):
Fusiform aneurysms affect the entire circumference of a vessel, resulting in a diffusely dilated lesion
Saccular aneurysms involve only a portion of the circumference, resulting in an outpouching (protrusion) in the vessel wall.
Prevalence of Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms
In community surveys, the prevalence of AAA is reported to be between 1% and 5.4%. (61) The prevalence is related to age and vascular risk factors. It is more common in men and in those with a positive family history.
In Canada, Abdominal aortic aneurysms are the 10th leading cause of death in men 65 years of age or older. (60) Naylor (60) reported that the rate of AAA repair in Ontario has increased from 38 per 100,000 population in 1981/1982 to 54 per 100,000 population in 1991/1992. For the period of 1989/90 to 1991/92, the rate of AAA repair in Ontarians age 45 years and over was 53 per 100,000. (60) In the United States, about 200,000 new cases are diagnosed each year, and 50,000 to 60,000 surgical AAA repairs are performed. (2) Ruptured AAAs are responsible for about 15,000 deaths in the United States annually. One in 10 men older than 80 years has some aneurysmal change in his aorta. (2)
Symptoms of Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms
AAAs usually do not produce symptoms. However, as they expand, they may become painful. Compression or erosion of adjacent tissue by aneurysms also may cause symptoms. The formation of mural thrombi, a type of blood clots, within the aneurysm may predispose people to peripheral embolization, where blood vessels become blocked. Occasionally, an aneurysm may leak into the vessel wall and the periadventitial area, causing pain and local tenderness. More often, acute rupture occurs without any prior warning, causing acute pain and hypotension. This complication is always life-threatening and requires an emergency operation.
Diagnosis of Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms
An AAA is usually detected on routine examination as a palpable, pulsatile, and non-tender mass. (1)
Abdominal radiography may show the calcified outline of the aneurysms; however, about 25% of aneurysms are not calcified and cannot be visualized by plain x-ray. (1) An abdominal ultrasound provides more accurate detection, can delineate the traverse and longitudinal dimensions of the aneurysm, and is useful for serial documentation of aneurysm size. Computed tomography and magnetic resonance have also been used for follow-up of aortic aneurysms. These technologies, particularly contrast-enhanced computer tomography, provide higher resolution than ultrasound.
Abdominal aortography remains the gold standard to evaluate patients with aneurysms for surgery. This technique helps document the extent of the aneurysms, especially their upper and lower limits. It also helps show the extent of associated athereosclerotic vascular disease. However, the procedure carries a small risk of complications, such as bleeding, allergic reactions, and atheroembolism. (1)
Prognosis of Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms
The risk of rupture of an untreated AAA is a continuous function of aneurysm size as represented by the maximal diameter of the AAA. The annual rupture rate is near zero for aneurysms less than 4 cm in diameter. The risk is about 1% per year for aneurysms 4 to 4.9 cm, 11% per year for aneurysms 5 to 5.9 cm, and 25% per year or more for aneurysms greater than 6 cm. (7)
The 1-year mortality rate of patients with AAAs who do not undergo surgical treatment is about 25% if the aneurysms are 4 to 6 cm in diameter. This increases to 50% for aneurysms exceeding 6 cm. Other major causes of mortality for people with AAAs include coronary heart disease and stroke.
Treatment of Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms
Treatment of an aneurysm is indicated under any one of the following conditions:
The AAA is greater than 6 cm in diameter.
The patient is symptomatic.
The AAA is rapidly expanding irrespective of the absolute diameter.
Open surgical repair of AAA is still the gold standard. It is a major operation involving the excision of dilated area and placement of a sutured woven graft. The surgery may be performed under emergent situation following the rupture of an AAA, or it may be performed electively.
Elective OSR is generally considered appropriate for healthy patients with aneurysms 5 to 6 cm in diameter. (7) Coronary artery disease is the major underlying illness contributing to morbidity and mortality in OSR. Other medical comorbidities, such as chronic renal failure, chronic lung disease, and liver cirrhosis with portal hypertension, may double or triple the usual risk of OSR.
Serial noninvasive follow-up of small aneurysms (less than 5 cm) is an alternative to immediate surgery.
Endovascular repair of AAA is the third treatment option and is the topic of this review.