News Release

May 31, 2004

Embargoed until Monday, May 31, 12:01 a.m. EST

Contact: Jane Shaskan, 860-679-4777

Advances in Noninvasive Screening Techniques for Fetal Abnormalities Lead to Decline in Riskier Procedures

UCHC Researchers Report Findings in Obstetrics and Gynecology

FARMINGTON, CONN. – Advances in noninvasive screening procedures have reduced the use of riskier procedures for the detection of fetal chromosome abnormalities, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Connecticut Health Center. Despite the growing number of pregnant women age 35 and older, the number of amniocenteses and chorionic villus sampling (CVS) procedures for the detection of fetal abnormalities has declined by more than 50 percent during the past 12 years. During that same time, the number of detected fetal chromosome abnormalities, such as Down syndrome, has increased.

Physician referrals for amniocentesis and CVS testing on the basis of maternal age alone declined by 68 percent between 1991 and 2002, but the number of women 35 and older having live births has increased, according to the study published in the June issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology. “We had fewer births overall in 2002 than in ’91, but more to mothers who are older,” said principal investigator Peter Benn, Ph.D., director of the Diagnostic Human Genetics Laboratory at UConn Health Center. “Our results show that increasingly amniocentesis and CVS are being used only after the risk for fetal abnormality has been established using maternal serum screening tests and ultrasound evaluation of the fetus,” he said.

Amniocentesis involves taking a sample of the amniotic fluid with a thin needle inserted through the abdomen, and CVS involves taking cells from the developing placenta, explained Benn. Both of these procedures are invasive and can result in an increased risk of miscarriage.

“Clearly, maternal serum screening tests and ultrasound are valuable approaches in determining which pregnancies are at the highest risk for a chromosome abnormality,” he said. “Many older women can avoid amniocentesis or CVS when high quality serum screening and ultrasound are provided.”

The paper, titled “Changes in the Utilization of Prenatal Diagnosis,” was authored by Benn; James F.X. Egan, M.D., vice-chairman of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UConn Health Center; Min Fang, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of Genetics and Developmental Biology at the Health Center; and Rebecca Smith-Bindman, M.D., assistant professor of Radiology, Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco.

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