Harvard Women's Health Watch

Can women get away with less frequent bone density screenings?

A study by researchers at Harvard-affiliated Hebrew SeniorLife questions whether older adults might be getting bone mineral density (BMD) tests too often. The study of 492 women and 310 men (average age 75) found that having a second scan four years after the initial baseline test didn't provide any additional information on fracture risk that helped doctors manage osteoporosis. For women ages 65 and older, current guidelines recommend BMD screening with dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scans, but the guidelines don't say how often women should get screened. Medicare reimburses for BMD screens every two years, regardless of a person's baseline BMD measurement. Given the costs involved with BMD screening, this study suggests that researchers still need to identify the optimal interval for testing and to determine which women might benefit most from more frequent testing. This research was published in the Sept. 25, 2013, issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

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