This document was published more than 2 years ago. The nature of the evidence may have changed.
A more recent review of the literature is reported in Methods of Early Prenatal Diagnosis, SBU report 182, published 2006.
The average incidence of Down syndrome is 1 per 650 births. The risk of having a child with Down syndrome increases with the age of the mother. Nevertheless, most children with Down syndrome are born to women under 35 years of age. Currently, chromosomal analysis via amniocentesis is offered to pregnant women 35 years of age and older. This examination carries a risk for miscarriage of approximately 1 percent. Analysis of biochemical markers in the mothers blood (serum) during gestational weeks 14-15 is an alternative method to identify a risk group. An analysis of the test results, the length of pregnancy as determined by ultrasound, and the mothers age can be used to identify a risk group who can be appropriate for amniocentesis to establish a diagnosis.
An analysis of serum markers makes it possible to identify a risk group in a more effective way than by using age alone as a risk indicator. This means that substantially fewer amniocentesis examinations are required to detect a fetus with Down syndrome. Hence, miscarriage of a healthy fetus can be avoided. A disadvantage in using these types of serum markers is that they cannot be analyzed prior to gestational weeks 14 or 15 and the followup amniocentesis may thereby be delayed.
All fetal diagnostic tests are associated with ethical dilemmas for individuals and society in the short and long term. It is not feasible to recommend a uniform strategy that is based on scientific principles. Rather, the use of available tests must be driven by the wishes of the parents. Hence, it is important to provide parents with evidence-based, comprehensible information on the expected consequences of various tests and advise them that other disorders might also be identified.
The health economic studies which have been conducted show that the costs of detecting a fetus with Down syndrome are lower when using serum markers compared to using age alone as a risk indicator.
There is good* scientific documentation on the diagnostic characteristics of the serum marker test. There is poor* scientific documentation on a range of different consequences in clinical use.
Using serum markers may have potential advantages, but until further evidence becomes available they should be used only in cases that allow scientific followup of the intended, and unintended, effects. A basic requirement is that parents should be provided with accurate, fundamental, and comprehensible information.
*This assessment by SBU Alert uses a 4-point scale to grade the quality and evidence of the scientific documentation. The grades indicate: (1) good, (2) moderate, (3) poor, or (4) no scientific evidence on the subject.
This summary is based on a report prepared at SBU in collaboration with Assoc. Prof. Jan Wahlström, Sahlgrenska University Hospital, Göteborg. It has been reviewed by Assoc. Prof. Connie Jörgensson,Lund University Hospital, Lund and Margareta Sten Linder, Dr, Karolinska Hospital, Stockholm.
The complete report is available in Swedish only.
Alert is a joint effort by the Swedish Council on Technology Assessment in Health Care (SBU), the Medical Products Agency, the National Board of Health and Welfare, and the Federation of Swedish County Councils.
presents a comprehensive, systematic assessment of available scientific evidence. The certainty of the evidence for each finding is systematically reviewed and graded. Full assessments include economic, social, and ethical impact analyses.
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