R Homewood, ARL Medford
Journal Issue: 
Volume 45: Issue 3: 2015



Current guidelines state that patients over 40 years of age with a first unprovoked pulmonary embolism should be offered limited screening for possible cancer and considered for intensive screening (abdomino-pelvic computed tomography and mammography), despite no evidence for the latter. The aim of this study was to evaluate the clinical utility and cost of intensive screening in routine clinical practice.

Methods All patients diagnosed with a first unprovoked pulmonary embolism between January 2014 and June 2014 in a single large UK teaching hospital were included. The information management department searched for patients with an International Classification of Diseases 10 discharge diagnosis of pulmonary embolism and limited to ‘acute pulmonary embolism with/without cor pulmonale’. Only patients with unprovoked pulmonary embolism were included. Patients with chronic medical conditions predisposing to pulmonary embolism were excluded. NHS costs were obtained from the Trust Finance Department. These costs were used to generate the costs of limited versus intensive screening, and then scaled up using adult population census information and assuming the same incidence of idiopathic pulmonary embolism to estimate the annual NHS cost of intensive screening.

Results Ninety-two patients were diagnosed with pulmonary embolism, and 25 met the inclusion criteria. Clinical examination was often incomplete (84%). Limited screening was often missed (urinalysis 100%, serum calcium 64%). Intensive screening was performed in the majority of cases (68%, all abdomino-pelvic computed tomography with no cancer detected) with an £88 excess cost per patient.

Conclusion Intensive screening in first unprovoked pulmonary embolism has a low yield, is costly and should not replace thorough clinical examination and basic screening.