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J Obstet Gynaecol Can. 2008 Oct;30(10):950-959. doi: 10.1016/S1701-2163(16)32975-9.

Carrier screening for thalassemia and hemoglobinopathies in Canada.

[Article in English, French]

Author information

Vancouver BC.
Toronto ON.
Montreal QC.
Mississauga ON.
Ottawa ON.
Halifax NS.
Calgary AB.
Philadelphia PA.
North York ON.



To provide recommendations to physicians, midwives, genetic counsellors, and clinical laboratory scientists involved in pre-conceptional or prenatal care regarding carrier screening for thalassemia and hemoglobinopathies (e.g., sickle cell anemia and other qualitative hemoglobin disorders).


To determine the populations to be screened and the appropriate tests to offer to minimize practice variations across Canada.


The Medline database was searched for relevant articles published between 1986 and 2007 on carrier screening for thalassemia and hemoglobinopathies. Key textbooks were also reviewed. Recommendations were quantified using the Evaluation of Evidence guidelines developed by the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care.


The evidence collected from the Medline search was reviewed by the Prenatal Diagnosis Committee of the Canadian College of Medical Geneticists (CCMG) and the Genetics Committee of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC).


Screening of individuals at increased risk of being carriers for thalassemia and hemoglobinopathies can identify couples with a 25% risk of having a pregnancy with a significant genetic disorder for which prenatal diagnosis is possible. Ideally, screening should be done pre-conceptionally. However, for a significant proportion of patients, the screening will occur during the pregnancy, and the time constraint for obtaining screening results may result in psychological distress. This guideline does not include a cost analysis.


1. Carrier screening for thalassemia and hemoglobinopathies should be offered to a woman if she and/or her partner are identified as belonging to an ethnic population whose members are at higher risk of being carriers. Ideally, this screening should be done pre-conceptionally or as early as possible in the pregnancy. (II-2A) 2. Screening should consist of a complete blood count, as well as hemoglobin electrophoresis or hemoglobin high performance liquid chromatography. This investigation should include quantitation of HbA2 and HbF. In addition, if there is microcytosis(mean cellular volume < 80 fL) and/or hypochromia (mean cellular hemoglobin < 27 pg) in the presence of a normal hemoglobin electrophoresis or high performance liquid chromatography the patient should be investigated with a brilliant cresyl blue stained blood smear to identify H bodies. A serum ferritin (to exclude iron deficiency anemia) should be performed simultaneously. (III-A) 3. If a woman's initial screening is abnormal (e.g., showing microcytosis or hypochromia with or without an elevated HbA2, or a variant Hb on electrophoresis or high performance liquid chromatography) then screening of the partner should be performed. This would include a complete blood count as well as hemoglobin electrophoresis or HPLC, HbA2 and HbF quantitation,and H body staining. (III-A) 4. If both partners are found to be carriers of thalassemia or an Hb variant, or of a combination of thalassemia and a hemoglobin variant, they should be referred for genetic counselling. Ideally,this should be prior to conception, or as early as possible in the pregnancy. Additional molecular studies may be required to clarify the carrier status of the parents and thus the risk to the fetus. (II-3A) 5. Prenatal diagnosis should be offered to the pregnant woman/couple at risk for having a fetus affected with a clinically significant thalassemia or hemoglobinopathy. Prenatal diagnosis should be performed with the patient's informed consent. If prenatal diagnosis is declined, testing of the child should be done to allow early diagnosis and referral to a pediatric hematology centre, if indicated. (II-3A) 6. Prenatal diagnosis by DNA analysis can be performed using cells obtained by chorionic villus sampling or amniocentesis. Alternatively for those who decline invasive testing and are at risk of hemoglobin Bart's hydrops fetalis (four-gene deletion alpha-thalassemia), serial detailed fetal ultrasound for assessment of the fetal cardiothoracic ratio (normal < 0.5) should be done in a centre that has experience conducting these assessments for early identification of an affected fetus. If an abnormality is detected, a referral to a tertiary care centre is recommended for further assessment and counselling. Confirmatory studies by DNA analysis of amniocytes should be done if a termination of pregnancy is being considered. (II-3A) 7. The finding of hydrops fetalis on ultrasound in the second or third trimester in women with an ethnic background that has an increased risk of alpha-thalassemia should prompt immediate investigation of the pregnant patient and her partner to determine their carrier status for alpha-thalassemia. (III-A) VALIDATION: This guideline has been prepared by the Prenatal Diagnosis Committee of the Canadian College of Medical Geneticists (CCMG) and the Genetics Committee of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC) and approved by the Board of Directors of the CCMG and the Executive and Council of the SOGC.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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