The objective of the MAS evidence review was to conduct a systematic review of the available evidence on the safety, effectiveness, durability and cost–effectiveness of endovascular laser therapy (ELT) for the treatment of primary symptomatic varicose veins (VV).
The Ontario Health Technology Advisory Committee (OHTAC) met on November 27, 2009 to review the safety, effectiveness, durability and cost-effectiveness of ELT for the treatment of primary VV based on an evidence-based review by the Medical Advisory Secretariat (MAS).
VV are tortuous, twisted, or elongated veins. This can be due to existing (inherited) valve dysfunction or decreased vein elasticity (primary venous reflux) or valve damage from prior thrombotic events (secondary venous reflux). The end result is pooling of blood in the veins, increased venous pressure and subsequent vein enlargement. As a result of high venous pressure, branch vessels balloon out leading to varicosities (varicose veins).
Symptoms typically affect the lower extremities and include (but are not limited to): aching, swelling, throbbing, night cramps, restless legs, leg fatigue, itching and burning. Left untreated, venous reflux tends to be progressive, often leading to chronic venous insufficiency (CVI).
A number of complications are associated with untreated venous reflux: including superficial thrombophlebitis as well as variceal rupture and haemorrhage. CVI often results in chronic skin changes referred to as stasis dermatitis. Stasis dermatitis is comprised of a spectrum of cutaneous abnormalities including edema, hyperpigmentation, eczema, lipodermatosclerosis and stasis ulceration. Ulceration represents the disease end point for severe CVI.
CVI is associated with a reduced quality of life particularly in relation to pain, physical function and mobility. In severe cases, VV with ulcers, QOL has been rated to be as bad or worse as other chronic diseases such as back pain and arthritis.
Lower limb VV is a common disease affecting adults and estimated to be the seventh most common reason for physician referral in the US. There is a strong familial predisposition to VV with the risk in offspring being 90% if both parents affected, 20% when neither is affected, and 45% (25% boys, 62% girls) if one parent is affected. Globally, the prevalence of VV ranges from 5% to 15% among men and 3% to 29% among women varying by the age, gender and ethnicity of the study population, survey methods and disease definition and measurement. The annual incidence of VV estimated from the Framingham Study was reported to be 2.6% among women and 1.9% among men and did not vary within the age range (40-89 years) studied.
Approximately 1% of the adult population has a stasis ulcer of venous origin at any one time with 4% at risk. The majority of leg ulcer patients are elderly with simple superficial vein reflux. Stasis ulcers are often lengthy medical problems and can last for several years and, despite effective compression therapy and multilayer bandaging are associated with high recurrence rates. Recent trials involving surgical treatment of superficial vein reflux have resulted in healing and significantly reduced recurrence rates.
Endovascular Laser Therapy for VV
ELT is an image-guided, minimally invasive treatment alternative to surgical stripping of superficial venous reflux. It does not require an operating room or general anesthesia and has been performed in outpatient settings by a variety of medical specialties including surgeons (vascular or general), interventional radiologists and phlebologists. Rather than surgically removing the vein, ELT works by destroying, cauterizing or ablating the refluxing vein segment using heat energy delivered via laser fibre.
Prior to ELT, colour-flow Doppler ultrasonography is used to confirm and map all areas of venous reflux to devise a safe and effective treatment plan. The ELT procedure involves the introduction of a guide wire into the target vein under ultrasound guidance followed by the insertion of an introducer sheath through which an optical fibre carrying the laser energy is advanced. A tumescent anesthetic solution is injected into the soft tissue surrounding the target vein along its entire length. This serves to anaesthetize the vein so that the patient feels no discomfort during the procedure. It also serves to insulate the heat from damaging adjacent structures, including nerves and skin. Once satisfactory positioning has been confirmed with ultrasound, the laser is activated. Both the laser fibre and the sheath are simultaneously, slowly and continuously pulled back along the length of the target vessel. At the end of the procedure, homeostasis is then achieved by applying pressure to the entry point.
Adequate and proper compression stockings and bandages are applied after the procedure to reduce the risk of venous thromboembolism, and to reduce postoperative bruising and tenderness. Patients are encouraged to walk immediately after the procedure and most patients return to work or usual activity within a few days. Follow-up protocols vary, with most patients returning 1-3 weeks later for an initial follow-up visit. At this point, the initial clinical result is assessed and occlusion of the treated vessels is confirmed with ultrasound. Patients often have a second follow-up visit 1-3 months following ELT at which time clinical evaluation and ultrasound are repeated. If required, sclerotherapy may be performed during the ELT procedure or at any follow-up visits.
Endovascular laser for the treatment of VV was approved by Health Canada as a class 3 device in 2002. The treatment has been an insured service in Saskatchewan since 2007 and is the only province to insure ELT. Although the treatment is not an insured service in Ontario, it has been provided by various medical specialties since 2002 in over 20 private clinics.
The MAS evidence-based review was performed as an update to the 2007 health technology review performed by the Australian Medical Services Committee (MSAC) to support public financing decisions. The literature search was performed on August 18, 2009 using standard bibliographic databases for studies published from January 1, 2007 to August 15, 2009. Search alerts were generated and reviewed for additional relevant literature up until October 1, 2009.
English language full-reports and human studies
Original reports with defined study methodology
Reports including standardized measurements on outcome events such as technical success, safety, effectiveness, durability, quality of life or patient satisfaction
Reports involving ELT for VV (great or small saphenous veins)
Randomized controlled trials (RCTs), systematic reviews and meta-analyses
Cohort and controlled clinical studies involving > 1 month ultrasound imaging follow-up
Non systematic reviews, letters, comments and editorials
Reports not involving outcome events such as safety, effectiveness, durability, or patient satisfaction following an intervention with ELT
Reports not involving interventions with ELT for VV
Pilot studies or studies with small samples ( < 50 subjects)
Summary of Findings
The MAS evidence search identified 14 systematic reviews, 29 cohort studies on safety and effectiveness, four cost studies and 12 randomized controlled trials involving ELT, six of these comparing endovascular laser with surgical ligation and saphenous vein stripping.
Since 2007, 22 cohort studies involving 10,883 patients undergoing ELT of the great saphenous vein (GSV) have been published. Imaging defined treatment effectiveness of mean vein closure rates were reported to be greater than 90% (range 93%- 99%) at short term follow-up. Longer than one year follow-up was reported in five studies with life table analysis performed in four but the follow up was still limited at three and four years. The overall pooled major adverse event rate, including DVT, PE, skin burns or nerve damage events extracted from these studies, was 0.63% (69/10,883).
The overall level of evidence of randomized trials comparing ELT with surgical ligation and vein stripping (n= 6) was graded as moderate to high. Recovery after treatment was significantly quicker after ELT (return to work median number of days, 4 vs. 17; p= .005). Major adverse events occurring after surgery were higher [(1.8% (n=4) vs. 0.4% (n = 1) 1 but not significantly. Treatment effectiveness as measured by imaging vein absence or closure, symptom relief or quality of life similar in the two treatment groups and both treatments resulted in statistically significantly improvements in these outcomes. Recurrence was low after both treatments at follow up but neovascularization (growth of new vessels, a key predictor of long term recurrence was significantly more common (18% vs. 1%; p = .001) after surgery. Although patient satisfaction was reported to be high (>80%) with both treatments, patient preferences evaluated through recruitment process, physician reports and consumer groups were strongly in favour of ELT. For patients minimal complications, quick recovery and dependability of outpatient scheduling were key considerations.
As clinical effectiveness of the two treatments was similar, a cost-analysis was performed to compare differences in resources and costs between the two procedures. A budget impact analysis for introducing ELT as an insured service was also performed. The average case cost (based on Ontario hospital costs and medical resources) for surgical vein stripping was estimated to be $1,799. Because of the uncertainties with resources associated with ELT, in addition to the device related costs, hospital costs were varied and assumed to be the same as or less than (40%) those for surgery resulting in an average ELT case cost of $2,025 or $1,602.
Based on the historical pattern of surgical vein stripping for varices a 5-year projection was made for annual volumes and costs. In Ontario in 2007/2008, 3481 surgical vein stripping procedures were performed, 28% for repeat procedures. Annual volumes of ELT currently being performed in the province in over 20 private clinics were estimated to be approximately 840. If ELT were publicly reimbursed, it was assumed that it would capture 35% of the vein stripping market in the first year and increase to 55% in subsequent years. Based on these assumptions if ELT were not publicly reimbursed, the province would be paying approximately $5.9 million and if ELT were reimbursed the province would pay $8.2 million if the hospital costs for ELT were the same as surgery and $7.1 million if the hospital costs were less (40%) than surgery.
The conclusions on the comparative outcomes between laser ablation and surgical ligation and saphenous vein stripping are summarized in the table below (ES Table 1).
Outcome comparisons of ELT vs. surgery for VV
The outcomes of the evidence-based review on these treatments based on three different perspectives are summarized below:
Patient Outcomes – ELT vs. Surgery
ELT has a quicker recovery attributable to the decreased pain, lower minor complications, use of local anesthesia with immediate ambulation.
ELT is as effective as surgery in the short term as assessed by imaging anatomic outcomes, symptomatic relief and HRQOL outcomes.
Recurrence is similar but neovascularization, a key predictor of long term recurrence, is significantly higher with surgery.
Patient satisfaction is equally high after both treatments but patient preference is much more strongly for ELT. Surgeons performing ELT are satisfied with treatment outcomes and regularly offer ELT as a treatment alternative to surgery.
Clinical or Technical Advantages – ELT Over Surgery
An endovascular approach can more easily and more precisely treat multilevel disease and difficult to treat areas
ELT is an effective and a less invasive treatment for the elderly with VV and those with venous leg ulcers.
System Outcomes – ELT Replacing Surgery
ELT may offer system advantages in that the treatment can be offered by several medical specialties in outpatient settings and because it does not require an operating theatre or general anesthesia.
The treatment may result in ↓ pre-surgical investigations, decanting of patients from OR, ↓ demand on anesthetists time, ↓ hospital stay, ↓decrease wait time for VV treatment and provide more reliable outpatient scheduling.
Depending on the reimbursement mechanism for the treatment, however, it may also result in closure of outpatient clinics with an increasingly centralization of procedures in selected hospitals with large capital budgets resulting in larger and longer waiting lists.
Procedure costs may be similar for the two treatments but the budget impact may be greater with insurance of ELT because of the transfer of the cases from the private market to the public payer system.