Even a minor accident or fall could result in a potentially disabling fracture for as many as 60 percent of Canadian women over age 50. That's just one of the disturbing findings of the Canadian Multicentre Osteoporosis Study (CAMOS), a major ongoing study of osteoporosis involving more than 9,000 people across Canada. This study is made possible by a recently renewed grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).
Although common in older people, osteoporosis is often not diagnosed or treated, according to CAMOS researchers. "We found a significant 'osteoporosis care gap,'" says principal investigator Dr. Alan Tenenhouse, Director of the Division of Bone Metabolism, Department of Medicine, McGill University Health Centre (MUHC). "Many cases of osteoporosis, especially in men, go undetected."
People with untreated osteoporosis are at high risk for fractures. Hip fractures are particularly dangerous. About one-quarter of the 25,000 Canadians who fracture a hip die within a year of their injury. Only half ever regain normal function.
"Other fractures, including spinal fractures, also have a very negative impact on quality of life," says Dr. Tenenhouse. "That's disturbing, because X-rays showed at least 15 percent of men and women over age 50 in our study had spinal fractures, although many of these did not cause symptoms.
"We found that even being diagnosed with osteoporosis caused a decline in quality of life, because people with the condition worry about the threat of fractures. The objective of CAMOS is to free older people in Canada from this threat."
Phase 2 of CAMOS is now underway. To assist them in their work, researchers will be using a made-in-Canada reference standard for bone density developed during the first phase of CAMOS.
"We are studying factors that promote maximum bone size and strength during youth, and the relationship between bone mass in youth to bone loss in older people," says Dr. Tenenhouse. "Understanding these processes and relationships is essential to the development of an effective strategy for fracture prevention. Ultimately, we hope CAMOS will help us develop better ways to reduce the human and economic impact of osteoporosis."
Osteoporosis, sometimes called porous bone disease or brittle bone disease, is characterized by reduced bone density and strength. The disorder affects as many as one in four Canadians over age 50, and is associated with increased risk of disabling fractures of the vertebrae, ribs, wrists and hips. Osteoporosis costs the Canadian economy an estimated $1 billion annually, and that figure is expected to double over the next 30 years as the population ages.
The CAMOS project is also funded by Merck-Frosst Canada, the Alliance for Better Bone Health, Novartis Pharmaceuticals Canada and Eli Lilly Pharmaceuticals Canada.