An article published in the New England Journal of Medicine (by our own UNC Family Medicine colleague, Dr. Margaret Gourlay) did a study looking at how often women should get bone density screening. Researchers studied 4,000 women over a 15-year period. They looked at those who were screened and what happened to their bones over time, to try to help us get a better understanding of how often we should screen and which populations we should focus on.
They calculate from the bone density screening what’s called the “T” score. Depending on your “T” score, which is a risk of developing osteoporosis, or osteopenia, a less severe form of thinning of the bones, what you need to do and how often you need to do it.
Researchers found in women 67 years of age and older, if you have a normal “T” score (starting out with a “T” score of negative 1.00 or higher), it took an average of almost 17 years for only 10% of that group to develop osteoporosis. What this information tells us is that for such women, they could go from age 67 to age 82 and have a very low osteoporosis risk, so in such women, they might not need to have that bone density screening done again for at least 15 years.
If you had moderate osteopenia and had a “T” score, from negative 1.5 to negative 2, the testing interval drops to 4-5 years, and if you have advanced osteopenia, it drops to almost every year. The younger you are the less frequent you need screening. This is begins to give us some idea of which group of women need to have more aggressive screening and which group of women (and men) might not need to be followed up nearly as aggressively.
Bottom line answer: If you have osteoporosis risks or have had a bone density study in the past, know your “T score, as this is practice-changing revelation.