Atherosclerotic disease of the carotid arteries is responsible for a significant portion of ischemic strokes. Carotid endarterectomy (CEA) is currently the accepted standard of treatment for patients with severe symptomatic carotid stenosis. In the past few years, however, carotid angioplasty and stenting (CAS) has emerged as a potential alternative endovascular treatment strategy for this disorder. In fact, spurred by the positive results of single center studies and small, pivotal randomized trials, some even consider CAS as the treatment modality of choice, especially in presumably surgical high-risk patients. Yet, randomized trials directly comparing CAS with CEA are sparse and have produced conflicting results.
The aim of this article is to review the current trial data on this issue and to define the role of these techniques for the management of two important subgroups of patients.
An updated meta-analysis of seven randomized trials comparing CEA with CAS demonstrates that CAS is associated with a significantly increased risk of any stroke or death within 30 days (OR. 1.41, 95% CI 1.07-1.87, p< 0.05). Focusing on patients with a symptomatic carotid stenosis, there was also a significant difference in the odds of treatment-related stroke and death between CAS and CEA (OR, 1.41; CI 1.05 to 1.88, p < 0.05). Data on all disabling strokes and deaths within 30 days was available from five trials. The odds of disabling stroke or death at 30 days were similar in the endovascular and surgical group (OR, 1.33, 95% CI 0.89 to 1.98).
Overall, these data do not justify a blind enthusiasm for CAS and a widespread use of this procedure for the treatment of carotid artery stenosis. On the other hand, a closer inspection of the current literature on elderly patients and those with a contralateral carotid occlusion clearly indicates that CAS and CEA already now have a complementary role. While elderly patients should preferentially be treated with CEA, CAS appears to be the treatment of choice in patients with a symptomatic carotid artery stenosis and a contralateral carotid occlusion in experienced centers.