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Lancet. 1998 Aug 1;352(9125):343-6.

UK multicentre project on assessment of risk of trisomy 21 by maternal age and fetal nuchal-translucency thickness at 10-14 weeks of gestation. Fetal Medicine Foundation First Trimester Screening Group.

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Harris Birthright Research Centre for Fetal Medicine, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, King's College School of Medicine and Dentistry, London, UK.



Prenatal diagnosis of trisomy 21 currently relies on assessment of risk followed by invasive testing in the 5% of pregnancies at the highest estimated risk. Selection of the high-risk group by a combination of maternal age and second-trimester maternal serum biochemistry gives a detection rate of about 60%. We investigated assessment of risk by a combination of maternal age and fetal nuchal-translucency thickness, measured by ultrasonography at 10-14 weeks of gestation.


The risk of trisomy 21 was estimated for 96127 women of median age 31 years (range 14-49) with singleton pregnancies. Ultrasonography was done by 306 appropriately trained sonographers in 22 centres. Risk of trisomy 21 was calculated from the maternal age and gestational-age-related prevalence, multiplied by a likelihood ratio depending on the deviation from normal in nuchal-translucency thickness for crown-rump length. The distribution of risks was investigated and the sensitivity of a cut-off risk of 1 in 300 was calculated. Phenotype was assessed by fetal karyotyping or clinical examination of liveborn infants.


The estimated trisomy-21 risk, from maternal age and fetal nuchal-translucency thickness, was 1 in 300 or higher in 7907 (8.3%) of 95476 normal pregnancies, 268 (82-2%) of 326 with trisomy 21, and 253 (77.9%) of 325 with other chromosomal defects. The 5% of the study population with the highest estimated risk included 77% of trisomy-21 cases.


Selection of the high-risk group for invasive testing by this method allows the detection of about 80% of affected pregnancies. However, even this method of risk assessment requires about 30 invasive tests for identification of one affected fetus.

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