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Doctors warned on bone disease

MASS SCREENING of the population for the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis is not worthwhile and checks should be limited to those at high risk, an expert committee said yesterday.

The Royal College of Physicians called for those with signs of osteoporosis to be identified and treated at an early stage to prevent the condition worsening, causing pain and disability to the sufferer and costing the NHS almost pounds 1bn a year.

In new guidelines, the college said osteoporosis is often wrongly labelled as a woman's disease. It affects 40 per cent of women over 70 but the risk for men is as much as half that for women.

It causes 200,000 fractures a year and the number is rising by 10 per cent a year. Over the next 50 years the number of fractures is expected to double because of the ageing population.

The guidelines say doctors should be aware of treatments for osteoporosis that can reduce the risk of repeated fractures. It says health experts should co-ordinate their activities "with a focus on reducing the huge burden of fractures suffered by patients".

However, the National Osteoporosis Society said there were too few bone density scanning machines available even to test those at high risk, defined as women (or men) who have lost height, suffered a "fragile" fracture (as a result of a minor accident) or taken steroid drugs for over six months.

Linda Edwards, the director, said: "The report demonstrates that current provision for osteoporosis in many areas is under-prioritised and under- resourced."