Dr. Pickhardt and colleagues show CT scans can provide early detection of osteoporosis

Posted on May 2013

According to research done by the Department of Radiology’s Dr. Perry Pickhardt, screening for osteoporosis may soon become even easier and more accessible to patients.

Dr. Pickhardt, along with fellow radiology colleagues Dr. Lawrence J. Lee, Dr. Alejandro Muñoz del Rio, Travis Lauder, Dr. Richard J. Bruce, Dr. Ron M. Summer, Dr. B. Dustin Pooler and Dr. Neil Binkley published initial research in 2011 that suggested CT scans used for colonography screening might be able to asses bone mineral density, a measure used to determine whether or not a subject has osteoporosis.

The group published on a much larger series this year in the Annals of Internal Medicine, and it was also featured on several online news sources, including Reuters and Medscape. This paper looked more broadly at the possibility of using any abdominal CT scan in older adults for osteoporosis screening, regardless of clinical condition.

More than 80 million CT scans were performed in the United States in 2011, and these scans can carry potentially useful data about osteoporosis, according to Dr. Pickhardt. Adult patients often undergo CT scans for a variety of reasons, and analysis of these images could allow doctors to also check for osteoporosis with no additional cost, patient time, equipment, software or radiation exposure.

“My idea was to use CT scans performed for different reasons,” said Pickhardt. “When a patient undergoes a CT scan, much of what is imaged may be largely ignored.” When CT scans are also used as a test for osteoporosis, “it turns out to be a very good test,” Pickhardt said.

According to Pickhardt, using the CT test can also show compression fractures earlier. “More than 50% who had fractures [on a CT scan] didn’t have osteoporosis on a DXA [bone density] test,” Pickhardt said. Dr. Neil C. Binkley, co-director of the Osteoporosis Clinical Center and Research Program, has collaborated on Pickhardt’s research as well. “This [research] is being done with a world expert helping to guide us,” Pickhardt said. “There is a lot of potential, and we may initiate a paradigm shift in how we screen for osteoporosis.”

Pickhardt says he is excited that this new prospective screening method is already in use for some patients at UW Hospital and Clinics. “Now when I read a CT scans, I often make a new diagnosis of osteoporosis,” Pickhardt said. “Although it might take several years for this to become widespread, people are getting the message and becoming aware of it. “