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CUH consultant urges men of 65 and over to have a potentially life-saving scan

06 January 2016
A quarter of men across Cambridgeshire, Peterborough and West Suffolk are not taking up the opportunity to have a simple and quick scan which could save their life.

Consultant vascular surgeon Paul Hayes and his team from the Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) screening service at Addenbrooke’s have detected nearly 300 potentially life-threatening aneurysms over the last four years.

The condition involves a dangerous swelling - aneurysm - of the aorta, the main blood vessel that runs from the heart, down through the abdomen to the rest of the body, and accounts for 60 deaths a week across the UK. Patients can show no symptoms but if the aorta bursts it can be fatal. 

Aneurysms are far more common in men aged over 65 than in women and younger men, so men are invited for screening in the year they turn 65.

Alan Hillyard from Wisbech had a large aneurysm which was found during his screening appointment at his GP in April 2013. He was operated on shortly afterwards at Addenbrooke’s.

65-year-old Alan, a former engineering patternmaker, said: “It was a bit of shock when I found out.  I wasn’t left hanging about though. Mr Hayes was very nice and it wasn’t frightening. You put your faith and trust in the doctors and nurses. There’s always a risk and you have to weigh it up. I like to know the facts before doing anything and of course this is even more important when you are having an operation. So I felt confident after I had read up on aneurysms and the procedure.”

Alan, who had heart bypass operation in 1991, added: “It was worrying at the time but it’s over, and now I just need to have a check-up once a year. I’ve got two scars either side of my abdomen because of the keyhole surgery.

“People don’t seem to know much about aneurysms so I’d say it’s important to go and get scanned if you are a man of my age.”

CUH consultant Paul Hayes said:  “Alan came along to one of our AAA screening programmes and he was quite lucky, he was found to have a swollen blood vessel, an aneurysm, and it had reached a size of over 6cm and that size it becomes life- threatening.“

“We treat these aneurysms with a mixture of either conventional open surgery or, like we did with Alan, two small cuts in the groin and a fairly minimally invasive treatment called EVAR, which allows us to reline the aneurysm. He went home a couple of days after surgery.

Paul added: “The main blood vessel in the body, the aorta, is normally around an inch across but once it balloons up to reach two to two and half inches across they are at risk of rupture and unfortunately when they do rupture only 20-30 per cent of patients survive. They are dangerous because they cause no symptoms at all before they burst.

“The first sign that someone has got them is terrible back pain and that is the when aneurysm ruptures. They cause around 60 deaths a week in the UK, but they are relatively unknown.  I think men don't always take advantage of the screening programmes available and that is one of the things we'd really like to improve.

“We offer a screening programme across Cambridgeshire, all the way from Peterborough to Huntingdon, and across to Diss and Sudbury. However only around two thirds of all the men we offer appointments to take up the screening.”

Naomi Hanwell, AAA screening programme manager said: “The Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) screening service is offered in 37 locations across the region. We have been screening for nearly four years now and have so far screened 18,274 patients and detected 270 abdominal aortic aneurysms, and of these referred 27 for surgery due to the large size of their aneurysm. We have 243 men on our surveillance programme who receive repeat screens on a yearly or three monthly basis, depending on their size of aneurysm.

“The test is simple, quick and painless and could save your life. It involves lying on the couch for 5 minutes, some ultrasound jelly on the tummy and a quick picture. If the aorta is completely normally we will discharge people and we don't need to see these patients again.”

Paul added: “Today also marks the opening of our brand new, state-of-the-art vascular operating theatre. It is part x-ray room and, part operating theatre and has been created specifically to improve our care of patients that have aortic aneurysms treated.

A million people have now taken part in a screening programme nationally to detect aortic aneurysms.