Study Finds Stents as Effective as Surgery to Prevent Strokes; European Study Finds Otherwise

This post was authored by Brian Nash and posted to The Eye Opener on March 18th, 2010.

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A few weeks ago, the NY Times published a story about a recent North American study designed to examine the efficacy of stenting versus surgery of the carotid artery for the prevention of strokes. Known as the Crest (Carotid Revascularization Endarterectomy versus Stenting Trial) Study, the project was designed to determine if the less invasive procedure known as stenting (i.e. placing a small tube inside the carotid artery) was an equally safe and effective treatment option to surgery for the prevention of stroke.  

Strokes are reported to be “the third leading cause of death in the United States and a major cause of disability among adults. Each year, almost 800,000 Americans suffer a stroke, and more than 140,000 die.”

Of concern, however, is a European study published online in the Lancet the day before the announcement of the Crest Study results.  According to Dr. Martin M. Brown, chief investigator for the European trial, the International Carotid Stenting Study, their investigation showed “dismal results” from stenting versus surgery in their study group population of 1,173 randomly selected patients (the Crest study involved 2,502 patients from more than 100 hospitals in North America).

Dr. Brown said that although differences in the groups studied might explain the disparate results, “nobody has really shown stenting is better than surgery, so why choose a stent?”

Dr. Brown added, “Even if Crest shows little difference between the two, there are three other trials that suggest surgery is safer.”

On the other side of the debate, however, are the statements of the lead author of the Crest Study, Dr. Thomas  Brott, who is quoted in the NY Times article as saying:

“We had outstanding results, and our study, we think, is representative of these treatments in the United States and Canada. Prior to the Crest trial, we really did not have the best evidence, but these results indicate that we have two very safe and effective methods to prevent stroke.” Though there are differences in risk between the two procedures and individual variations, he said, “the results from stenting are very comparable to those for carotid surgery.”

The differences in the two studies in terms of mortality and morbidity are summarized in the Times article.

What to make out of all this remains the question.  Hopefully further studies will provide a clearer answer.

I am not a doctor, and I suspect, you, the reader, are probably not either.  What I can say is this – and it is what I have been advocating throughout many of our blogs – be an educated patient.  Ask questions if you find yourself or a loved one presented with this option of surgery versus stenting and ask the right questions of your doctor.  Why is one option being suggested by your doctor over the other?  What are the risks of each procedure?  While one procedure may be “less invasive” than the other, there are still risks associated with each.  ”Less invasive” is not always the answer.   I further encourage you to ask your doctor what his or her experience is in performing carotid artery stenting.  Remember, the Crest Study had one key element – “carefully screened … doctors doing the stenting procedure, including only highly skilled physicians with a lot of experience.”  Make sure your doctor fits that description.

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