There is encouraging news in the fight against osteoporosis. Researchers say the drug Raloxifene, prescribed to prevent the disease, can also be used to treat osteoporosis once the bones become brittle and even break. It's the first evidence showing patients can fight the condition well into their 60s and 70s.
76-year-old Alberta Ecker walks every day to help keep her bones strong. Like many older women, Ecker has osteoporosis. "I was getting dinner in my kitchen very quickly, and there was water on the floor, and I slipped and fell," said Ecker. "Broke my upper left arm. I just cracked it, so it wasn't bad."
Ecker is also vunerable to spinal fractures related to her osteoporosis. And she's lost an inch in height over the years, a symptom of the progressive and ultimately disabling condition. Her condition made her the perfect candidate for a nationwide study on the drug Raloxifene. "We found that Raloxifene reduced the risk of fracture by 40-percent. Spine fractures that normally would occur in 5 or 6 percent of women each year were markedly reduced by the use of Raloxifene," said Dr. Bruce Ettinger, Kaiser Permanente. "So at the end of three years we could show a significant health benefit for women getting Raloxifene compared to those getting a placebo."
The findings were published in this week's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers call the study exciting and promising. Doctors from 25 countries found Raloxifene increased bone density in the spine and hip and reduced the risk of spinal fracture for many of the 8,000 women in the study.
Researchers say the drug also reduced the risk of breast cancer in women in the study. Other studies show Raloxifene may also protect against heart disease. Scientists add it's important to note Raloxifene does not increase the risk of developing uterine cancer. But there are side effects including hot flashes and the risk of blood clots in the legs.
Ecker still doesn't know if she received the actual drug or a placebo. She does know she gained 10 percent in bone density and believes it was the results of Raloxifene.
Ecker says she now has hope of living life with no further fractures.
Though Raloxifene, sold under the brand name Evista, is approved for preventing osteoporosis, it's not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treating the disease. The study will continue for a few more years.