Lifesaving Test for Baby Boomers

11/24/2008 TAMPA, Fla. "Every year, I buy myself a play toy," David Backulich told Ivanhoe. "I deserve it."

This year, he really deserves it. Backulich was diagnosed with prostate cancer and lymphoma. Then, he was diagnosed with bladder cancer. Sounds bad? Tests for the cancer revealed another deadly problem.

"In a way, I say the cancer saved my life," he said.

Backulich had two aneurysms. An aneurysm is where a portion of an artery balloons and can eventually rupture.

"Aneurysms are increasing in incidence, and they are becoming more common," Martin Back, M.D., a vascular surgeon at the Tampa General Hospital and the University of South Florida in Tampa, Fla., told Ivanhoe.

Dr. Back says abdominal aortic aneurysm, or triple A, is the 13th leading cause of death. Nine out of ten patients who have a triple A rupture die, but a triple A doesn't have to be deadly, if it's caught early. A simple ultrasound can detect a triple A.

"It's a very good screening test in that in a single ultrasound, if the aorta is found to be a normal size in the abdomen, that patient will likely never develop an aneurysm," Dr. Back explained.

If the aorta is larger, doctors can check it regularly until the aneurysm grows to the point where surgery is needed. That's what happened to Douglas Bell.

"I never knew anything about them until they found the one on me," Bell told Ivanhoe. "Then I got educated quick."

"One hour of your time can save your life," Buckulich noted.

Risk factors include being male, having high blood pressure, being over age 60, and being a smoker or former smoker. Guidelines suggest all men over age 60 and women over age 60 with risk factors have an ultrasound.

"In America these days, a lot of medical care is dependent upon the patient bringing things up with their physician," Dr. Back said; but not everyone is lucky enough to find it in time like Buckulich.

Men and women with a family history of triple A should get an ultrasound at age 50. When triple As are detected and treated early, more than 95 percent of people recover completely. New legislation passed by congress allows reimbursement for ultrasound as screening for triple A in patients over 65. The cost of the procedure typically runs about $200 to $300.

Martin Back, MD
University of South Florida/Tampa General Hospital
Tampa, FL


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