Report from Washington II

Today's discussions at the Society for Cardiovascular Computed Tomography (SCCT) focused on atherosclerotic "plaque characterization".

As CT scanners get better and better at imaging the various components of plaque, some fascinating issues emerge:

--CT heart scans provide insights into what exactly is contained in an individual's atherosclerotic plaque that are not often provided even during heart catheterization. In other words, CT heart scanning is, in many instances, superior to heart catheterization, since it provides images of the artery wall, not just the internal contents.

--Progression (i.e., increase) in heart scan score is a powerful predicter of heart attack risk. Dr. Matthew Budoff of UCLA argued persuasively that the annual rate of increase in score is probably the most accurate measure of risk available, superior to cholesterol and calculated measures like the Framingham risk score.

--Coronary calcium scoring remains the best method to gauge total plaque throughout the entire coronary tree. In a person free of symptoms, the risk of a cardiac "event" (heart attack, death, procedures) is low and additional imaging (like CT angiography) is generally unnecessary.

Dr. Budoff, among the true thought leaders in CT heart scanning, also recounted his perspective on the history of heart scans. He noted that the questions asked through the years have evolved:

1995-2000 Should we do coronary calcium scans?

2000-2002 Do high or low risk patients benefit from coronary calcium scoring?

2003-2004 What is the better scanner, EBT or MDCT?

2006 How often should we perform coronary calcium imaging?

I believe that Dr. Budoff summarizes wonderfully where the Track Your Plaque programs fits into the overall scheme of things: Serial (repeated)CT heart scans to gauge progression or reversal is the wave of the future. We shouldn't just be interested in identifying persons at risk for heart attack. We should also be interested in showing the person at risk exactly how to reduce or eliminate that risk.