Patients with cirrhosis require endoscopic screening for large esophageal varices. The aims of this study were to determine the cost-effectiveness and patient preferences of a strategy employing abdominal computerized tomography (CT) as the initial screening test for identifying large esophageal varices. In a prospective evaluation, 102 patients underwent both CT and endoscopic screening for gastroesophageal varices. Two radiologists read each CT independently; standard upper gastrointestinal endoscopy was the reference standard. Agreement between radiologists, and between endoscopists regarding size of varices was determined using kappa statistic. Cost-effectiveness analysis was performed to determine the optimal screening strategy for varices. Patient preference was assessed by questionnaire. CT was found to have approximately 90% sensitivity in the identification of esophageal varices determined to be large on endoscopy, but only about 50% specificity. The sensitivity of CT in detecting gastric varices was 87%. In addition, a significant number of gastric varices, peri-esophageal varices, and extraluminal pathology were identified by CT that were not identified by endoscopy. Patients overwhelmingly preferred CT over endoscopy . Agreement between radiologists was good regarding the size of varices (Kappa = 0.56), and exceeded agreement between endoscopists (Kappa = 0.36). Use of CT as the initial screening modality for the detection of varices was significantly more cost-effective compared to endoscopy irrespective of the prevalence of large varices. Conclusion: Abdominal CT as the initial screening test for varices could be cost-effective. CT also permits evaluation of extra-luminal pathology that impacts management.
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