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50+: Live Better, Longer

Little Benefit Seen in Repeat Bone-Density Testing

Older adults without osteoporosis could wait longer between screenings, study suggests
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WebMD News from HealthDay

By Kathleen Doheny

HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Sept. 24 (HealthDay News) -- For many seniors, it may not be worthwhile to undergo frequent imaging tests to see if they're at risk for broken bones, a new study suggests.

Repeating a bone-mineral-density test four years after the initial one did not provide substantially more information to predict fracture risk among older men and women who did not yet have osteoporosis, the study found.

"We found that the initial bone-density test did a good job of identifying individuals at risk for a fracture," said Dr. Sarah D. Berry, a research scientist at the Institute for Aging Research at Hebrew Senior Life and an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

The bone-mineral-density DEXA test often is repeated every two years, Berry said, as Medicare part B will reimburse for it every two years, and more often if medically necessary. DEXA stands for dual energy X-ray absorptiometry. People with lower bone density are at greater risk for breaking a bone.

The study, which included more than 800 men and women with an average age of 75, is published in the Sept. 25 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Berry's study was conducted to determine if testing at a four-year interval was excessive and could be skipped without harm, thereby saving health care dollars. Currently, about 22 percent of screened Medicare patients get a repeat test, on average about 2.2 years apart, according to background information included in the study.

Berry's team followed the participants for about 10 years, on average. They found that during that time, 113 people had one or more major fractures. When they looked to see if the results of the second test predicted fractures, they found that it provided little additional information.

"Of those who went on to experience a hip fracture, repeating a bone-density test improved our ability to classify a person at higher risk by about 4 percent," Berry said.

She said the message is not to ignore fracture risk, and that the study only speaks about the four-year interval, not beyond. "What our study suggests is that a doctor should routinely reassess risk," she said, but could probably do that without a repeat bone-density test very two years.

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