Study Questions Two-Year Bone Density Screening for Older Women

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A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine calls into question the bi-annual screening for osteoporosis that Medicare recommends for women over 65.

Researchers at four universities and a VA medical center in Minnesota looked at nearly 5,000 women aged 67 and over. The study, published Thursday, says for women with normal bone density they could wait as long as 15 years before a second exam.

They found osteoporosis would develop in 10% of women with normal bones after 15 years , 5 years for those with moderate osteopenia, and 1 year for women in advanced stages.

Medicare covers every two years the test known as duel-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA), which takes an image of the hip and spine. While the recent study does not have direct policy implications, it could cause Medicare and commercial insurance companies to take another look at the comparative effectiveness of testing every two years.

A New York Times blog on Thursday pointed out just how few women actually receive bone-density tests today despite the recommendation.

“A 2008 study using a 5 percent sample of all Medicare beneficiaries revealed that from 1999 to 2005 only 30 percent of women turning 65 (and 4 percent of men) had bone density tests. About two-thirds, by contrast, had gotten recent mammograms, even though an older woman’s risk of osteoporosis is higher than her risk of breast cancer,” according to the article.

For a related article in New York Time click here.