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HEALTH REPORT — April 10, 2002: Treating Osteoporosis - 2002-04-09

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

Medical researchers say they may have found a new effective treatment for the bone-thinning condition called osteoporosis. Osteoporosis greatly reduces the density of bones. They become thin and weak and break easily. The areas of the body most seriously affected are the back bones and the hip bones.

Experts say the condition is a major health threat around the world. The World Health Organization estimates that the risk of suffering a broken bone related to osteoporosis during a person’s life is about forty percent for women and thirteen percent for men. It says the number of broken hips suffered by people around the world is increasing.

There are several drugs to prevent bone loss. People take these pills every day or once a week. However, not everyone can take the drugs because they have unwanted effects.

The new international study examined the effect of a drug called zoledronic acid on bones. The drug has already been approved for use in cancer patients to treat a condition in which calcium leaves the bones.

The researchers reported the results of their one-year study in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study involved about three-hundred-fifty women in ten countries, including France, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Austria, Canada and New Zealand.

Some of the women received zoledronic acid during the study. Different groups received different amounts of the drug between one and four times a year. The other women received only an inactive substance. All of the women received either the drug or the inactive substance through a thin tube into a vein.

The researchers found increased bone density in the back bones and hip bones of all the women who received the drug. The drug also slowed their rates of bone loss. The effects continued for at least a year after treatment, after the drug had disappeared from the blood. The researchers also said the drug caused fewer unwanted effects than those caused by osteoporosis drugs now in use.

The researchers say the study suggests that zoledronic acid given once a year may be an effective treatment for osteoporosis. They will not know for sure for another five years, until more studies have been completed. These larger and longer studies have already begun.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Nancy Steinbach.