New Drugs Fuel Rise in Osteoporosis Treatment
More People Treated for Osteoporosis, but Millions More Still at Risk
July 26, 2004 -- The number of doctor visits for osteoporosis
has more than quadrupled in the last decade, thanks to increased awareness and
new treatments for the disease, say researchers.
But despite these advances, a new report shows that less than
half of those with the bone-weakening disease are aware of their condition.
The study shows that the number of physician office visits for
osteoporosis increased dramatically from 1.3 million in 1994 to 6.3 million in
2003 after years of remaining stable. At the same time, the number of people
diagnosed with the disease increased from half a million in 1994 to 3.4 million
Researchers say the increases are likely due to a greater
awareness of the disease along with the introduction of new drugs, such as
bisphosphonates (including Actonel and Fosamax) and Evista, which slow down the
loss of bone associated with osteoporosis.
In addition, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force in 2002
recommended widespread screening for osteoporosis for all women over age
Osteoporosis Treatment Rising
For the study, published in the July 26 issue of The
Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers looked at trends in
osteoporosis-related office visits as well as physician prescribing practices
from 1988 to 2003.
Researchers found little change in the number of physician
office visits for osteoporosis between 1988 and 1994. But after 1994, the
number of visits increased by more than 300%. The largest increases in
osteoporosis-related office visits were in 1996 and 1998, which coincides with
when Fosamax and Evista were introduced, respectively.
The study shows that the treatment of osteoporosis has also
changed as new drugs became available. Prior to 1994, the most popular drugs
prescribed for osteoporosis were calcium and estrogens.
But between 1994 and 2003, the percentage of visits during
which a bisphosphonate or Evista was prescribed increased from 14% to 73% and
from 0% to 12%, respectively.
Researchers say they are concerned that as prescriptions for
new osteoporosis drugs have increased, the use of calcium has decreased.
Calcium supplements were used in treating 43% of osteoporosis patients in 1994,
but only 24% last year.
"Physicians and patients may be so enamored of the new
drugs that they are neglecting this important component of osteoporosis
treatment," says researcher Randall Stafford, MD, of Stanford University,
in a news release. "This would be a mistake because newer osteoporosis
medications were tested on people taking extra calcium and may not work as well
In addition, researchers say that while 10 million Americans
have osteoporosis, 34 million are at risk for developing the disease and
greater attention should to be devoted to preventing osteoporosis with tools
such as calcium supplementation and physical activity.