It may not be noted on your calendar, so the good doctors at HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley want to remind everyone that May is National Osteoporosis Month. If you or a loved one is at risk for this bone-wasting disease, talk to your doctor about a simple screening test that can help diagnose the problem and get you started on treatments.
The test is called dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA). It measures the density of the bones in your hips and lumbar spine, which are all places likely to be affected by osteoporosis. A DEXA scan requires a very small amount of X-ray radiation, says Becky King, director of ambulatory services for HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley. “In fact, you are exposed to 10 to 15 times more radiation when you fly round trip from New York to San Francisco,” she says.
The test is quick — just 15 minutes from registration to completion — painless and comfortable, she says. Many women schedule them to coincide with their annual mammogram at the Fern Feldman Anolick Center for Breast Health in Kingston. “We coordinate back-to-back appointments for their convenience,” King says.
Though you do need a doctor’s prescription for a DEXA scan, you don’t need one for a mammogram at the Center. “We are one of just two sites in New York State with a waiver from the Department of Health allowing for screening mammograms without a prescription,” she says. As a comprehensive breast center, it offers everything from screenings to biopsies and treatment. “Anyone with any kind of problem is also assigned a breast cancer navigator to help her get through the process as quickly and seamlessly as possible,” King says.
This is especially helpful since women over age 50 — who are most at risk for breast cancer — also comprise the majority of osteoporosis patients. According to the National Institutes of Health, as many as half of all women and a quarter of men older than 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis. “We encourage people to talk to their physician at their annual physical about osteoporosis risk factors,” King says. “The doctor may start DEXA screening at 50 if there are risks, or later without risk factors.”
DEXA scans are performed at the Fern Feldman Anolick Center for Breast Health, located at HealthAlliance Hospital’s Mary’s Avenue campus in Kingston. It is open Monday through Friday, and the first and third Saturday of the month. Evening appointments are also available on Tuesday and Wednesday. “We definitely see a spike in May — folks are paying attention,” King says.