A procedure called carotid artery stenting (CAS) has emerged as a minimally invasive alternative to surgery, called carotid endarterectomy (CEA), for patients with dangerous narrowing of the arteries supplying blood to the brain. However, questions remain about the best uses of this procedure--especially whether it is an appropriate alternative to surgery for "low-risk" patients, according to an article in the January/February issue of Annals of Vascular Surgery.
"Currently, the choice of CEA versus CAS in individual patients is based more on individual practitioner experience than on clear evidence-derived guidelines," according to the new article by Drs. Philip P. Goodney and Richard J. Powell of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon, N.H. "Nonetheless, the popularity of less-invasive therapy combined with marketing of new CAS systems has increased the utilization of CAS."
Drs. Goodney and Powell review and summarize the research evidence on CAS to prevent stroke in patients with narrowing (stenosis) of the carotid arteries. In the CAS procedure, an expandable mesh device called a stent is placed to increase blood flow through the area of stenosis.
Recently, several randomized controlled trials--the strongest category of scientific evidence--have directly compared the results of CAS and CEA. It has now been fairly well established that CAS and CEA yield comparable results in "high-risk" patients.
However, debate continues as to the role of CAS in the much larger group of "low-risk" patients. Some studies suggest that CAS and CEA produce similar results, but others have found a lower rate of serious complications and death in patients undergoing surgery.
Drs. Goodney and Powell note several limitations of the research that make it difficult to compare results between trials. Studies being conducted now will help to clarify the relative performance of the two techniques in both high-risk and low-risk patients. A key question will be whether CAS or CEA is the better choice for patients considered high-risk because of medical conditions.
Other issues that will need to be worked through include refinements in the design of CAS systems and the role of detailed imaging studies in guiding treatment decisions. "Ongoing randomized trials will help determine optimal revascularization strategies in the future," the authors conclude.
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