Is routine bone density testing for women age 65 and older really an effective tool for preventing osteoporosis, the bone-weakening disease that is especially common in women of Asian descent? Until recently, most bone health experts believed there was not enough hard evidence to support either a “yes” or “no” answer to that question.

Now, however, a newly issued recommendation from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a federally appointed panel of medical experts that evaluates the effectiveness of clinical preventive services, has put an end to the debate. In a report published September 17, 2002 in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the task force recommended that women 65 years of age and older be screened routinely for osteoporosis. “[We] found good evidence that the risk for osteoporosis and fracture increases with age and other factors, that bone density measurements accurately predict the risk for fractures in the short term, and that treating asymptomatic women with osteoporosis reduces their risk for fracture,” the recommendation notes.

In its previous report on osteoporosis, issued in 1996, the task force found there was insufficient evidence to determine whether or not routine screening made a difference in preventing the disease. But in the years since then, an accumulation of new research data led the panel to update its position and conclude that “the benefits of screening…are of at least moderate magnitude for women at increased risk by virtue of age or presence of other risk factors.”

The task force recommends that women 65 and over with normal bone density should receive a routine osteoporosis test every five years. Women who are at particularly high risk for the disease, such as Asian women and those with a family history of osteoporosis, should begin screening earlier, at age 60, the panel adds.

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