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more articles by Hwang, Kim , MD  |  author's bio

Medical Staff Connections Newsletter

Portable Bone Densitometry Scanning Provides Fast, Easy Screening

By Kim Hwang, MD


Early detection and treatment of osteoporosis can have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life and level of activity as they age into their senior years. A bone densitometry scan is a painless imaging test that accurately measures bone density and can be a useful tool in preventing and treating osteoporosis. Bone densitometry scans, also known as DEXA scans, are performed at both Convenient Care Centers in Ithaca and Cortland, and at Cayuga Medical Center.


In addition to DEXA scanners, Cayuga Medical Center now has a simple, portable screening test to detect signs of osteoporosis. The GE Healthcare Achilles Bone Ultrasonometer uses ultrasound, not radiation, to measure bone density in the heel.


What is osteoporosis?


Both women and men begin losing bone mass at around age thirty-five, as a natural part of the aging process. Bone loss escalates for women after menopause due to declining levels of estrogen. This puts women at special risk for developing osteoporosis, which is a skeletal disorder characterized by thin, weakened bones that are easily fractured.


Where is the portable bone-densitometry screening unit available?


The portable unit will be available at health fairs as a screening tool and to raise awareness about the importance of regular screening, early detection, and treatment of osteoporosis. We also plan to rotate the unit among our three imaging locations to provide free bone densitometry screening to women in the mammography waiting room.


What is the screening test like?


This screening test takes about a minute. The patient simply removes a shoe and places her heel into a footrest. The scan measures the ultrasound properties of the calcaneus, which is a load-bearing bone.


How do I get my results?


A written report is generated and given directly to the patient. Similar to our DEXA scan reports, the portable unit indicates:  a T score, which is the standard deviation away from peak bone-mineral density; and a Z score, which is the standard deviation above or below the mean for age-matched controls. These T scores are comparable to spine or hip bone mineral density.


What should I do with the report?


Our recommendation is that patients take their reports to their next doctor’s appointment to discuss the results and to see if follow-up is necessary. If the results indicate signs of bone thinning or osteoporosis, your doctor may recommend a lumbar and hip DEXA scan to obtain more detailed information.


When should I have my first bone scan?


Regular DEXA scanning should begin around the time of menopause unless existing medical problems might lead to early bone loss, putting you at increased risk for osteoporosis. In this case, you should talk with your doctor about obtaining a baseline DEXA scan prior to menopause.


What about follow-up?


If you have normal bone density, follow-up DEXA scanning is recommended every three to five years. However, if you are being treated for osteoporosis, we recommend DEXA scanning every one to two years. The scan precisely captures small changes in bone mass, which can help you and your doctor follow the progress of the treatment.


What other new imaging technology is available locally for bone health?


In addition to the new portable densitometry unit, the DEXA machines at our Convenient Care Centers are new digital systems. Images from the DEXA studies can be reviewed in your doctor’s office through the medical center’s picture archive computer system (PACS). We have upgraded our services with new digital DEXA machines to improve the quality of our technology. These particular models use a lower dose of radiation because they are digital, which is one of several reasons why we replaced the previous equipment.


People are living longer these days, which makes bone health more important than ever. Talk to your doctor about your own risks for osteoporosis and when you should undergo bone densitometry scanning.


Dr. Hwang is board certified in radiology and is Chairman of the Department of Radiology and Imaging Services at Cayuga Medical Center.






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