Frequent Osteoporosis Testing Not Needed

Emerging research has found that frequent osteoporosis testing is no longer needed in older women who received health bone scan results previously.

The findings could mean that millions of women can skip frequent testing if their first scan indicates no problems, said The Washington Post. As a matter-of-fact, many can safely put off testing for 15 years after an initial, clean scan, according to the study.

While government advisers and doctor groups have long suggested osteoporosis screening for older women, the frequency of such testing has remained pretty much unknown. These findings, wrote The Post, offer the best information on frequency. “This is landmark, in the sense that it could allow us to move on to more precise guidelines,” said Dr. Heidi Nelson, a researcher at the Oregon Health & Science University, an expert on the topic, said The Post.

Bone mineral density tests are typically conducted via X-rays for about $250 a test and for a duration of about 10 minutes; less radiation is involved than in a typical chest X-ray, noted The Post, and Medicare will cover the cost for the tests when conducted every two years. “It’s an expenditure of time, it’s exposure to radiation, and it’s cost. And there’s no reason to expose yourself to any risks if there’s going to be no benefit,” said Dr. Virginia Moyer, head of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, wrote The Post.

The Task Force, said Bloomberg Businessweek, is a government panel that sets and issues testing guidelines and recommends bone density testing be conducted every two years. But, this new study found that if a healthy result is received at age 65, women can wait until they are 80 to undergo a second test, given the slow nature of the disease, said Businessweek. “There’s strong belief that the more we test, the more we are helping patients,” said Margaret Gourlay, a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researcher and study author told Businessweek. “This is a good example of why that doesn’t hold up at all,” she added.

A loss in bone density, osteoporosis, can lead to breaks and injuries and actually develops in less than 10 percent of women who are 80 years of age, if their bone density was normal at age 65, said the researchers in the most recent New England Journal of Medicine, wrote Businessweek. Osteoporosis affects about 12 million Americans older than 50, including about half of all post-menopausal women.

Bone density tests, which the Task Force recommends for all women over age 65, measures bone thickness in specific spots, usually the hip and lower spine, said The Post. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, about half of all women older than age 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis. The panel also recommends than younger, post-menopausal women at higher risk for fractures be scanned; however, other than saying a couple of years is needed between scans, frequency was not discussed, said The Post, and changes in standards have not been implemented.

The study followed some 5,000, generally white females, over a 15-year period. The women’s bone mass was regularly tested from age 67 on, said Businessweek. According to Gourlay, future study goals involve collecting osteoporosis treatment for men and women under the age of 65.

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