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How Often Should Bone Density Testing Be Done?

Not as often as you think, even though Medicare may be willing to pay for it every two years. Via Science Daily:

Now a new study led by Margaret L. Gourlay, MD, MPH of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine finds that women aged 67 years and older with normal bone mineral density scores may not need screening again for 10 years.

“If a woman’s bone density at age 67 is very good, then she doesn’t need to be re-screened in two years or three years, because we’re not likely to see much change,” Gourlay said. “Our study found it would take about 16 years for 10 percent of women in the highest bone density ranges to develop osteoporosis. That was longer than we expected, and it’s great news for this group of women,” Gourlay said.

The researchers suggest that for T scores > -1.5, repeat testing needn’t be done for 10 years. Women with T scores between -1.5 and -2.0 can be re-screened in 5 years, and those with T scores below -2.0 can have every other year testing as is done now.

To be honest, I’ve been spacing out bone density testing in woman with good baseline scores for some time, but not knowing how long I can go. This is great information for me and for my patients.

*This blog post was originally published at tbtam*


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One Response to “How Often Should Bone Density Testing Be Done?”

  1. Thank you so much for this update. Bone scanning (and the subsequent invention of osteopenia as a “disease” is a near-perfect example of what’s been called “marketing-based medicine”.

    Merck, makers of the bone drug Fosamax, even founded the officious-sounding front group called The Bone Measurement Institute in ’95:

    - to help “educate” consumers about the critical need to undergo bone scanning tests
    - to lobby governments to allow medical insurance plans to pay for these bone scans
    - to create ‘Direct To Consumer’ TV ads urging women to get their bone density tested because they might need to take Fosamax to treat their “osteopenia” and thus prevent osteoporosis

    Trouble is, as University of Toronto researcher Dr. Angela Cheung reported in the Canadian Medical Association Journal:

    “We do not recommend using drug therapy for the primary prevention of osteoporosis, especially in young postmenopausal women. More than 45% of postmenopausal women have so-called ‘osteopenia’. The fracture risk for these women IS VERY LOW.”

    Note her description of the diagnosis of osteopenia as “so-called” – a miracle of disease-mongering if there ever was one.

    Since the industry-funded development of screening diagnostics, annual bone density screening rates in North America have increased by 263% since 2002. The more patients you screen, the more questionable scan results, and the more Fosamax you can sell to them. By 2007, the number of people prescribed Merck’s Fosamax alone had increased by 153% over a five-year period.

    Bone density testing is really quite a spectacular success story for Big Pharma marketing!

    http://www.ethicalnag.org/2010/02/06/osteopenia/

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