Osteoporosis: Where’s The Hype?

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • Did you know that May is National Osteoporosis Prevention and Awareness month?

    No, neither did I.

    Did you know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month?

    If you didn’t… where have you been? The ubiquitous pink ribbon, breast cancer’s long-time symbol, graced everything from boxes of breakfast cereal to a NASCAR racer last October. You must have been in Antarctica to miss all that.

    Fact: The chance of you, an American woman, being diagnosed with breast cancer during your lifetime is 1 in 8.

    Fact: The chance of you, an American woman over age 50, sustaining an osteoporosis-related fracture during your remaining lifetime is 1 in 2.

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    •On average, 24% of women over age 50 who fracture a hip die within a year of that fracture.
    •At six months after fracturing a hip, only 15% of patients are able to walk without help.
    •A woman's risk of hip fracture is equal to her risk of breast, uterine, and ovarian cancer combined.

    Crippling fractures? Death? Those are fairly significant downsides. So why is “the buzz” about osteoporosis so darned quiet?

    It’s been nicknamed “the silent disease” for the insidious way it develops: completely without symptoms, till you break a bone. But perhaps “the silent disease” refers to osteoporosis’ relative anonymity in the pantheon of “hot” health-care issues, as well.


    I mean, muscular dystrophy has the Jerry Lewis telethon. Polio had the March of Dimes (now devoted to infant health). StandUp2Cancer (SU2C) has a VERY cool Web site, and raised over $100 million for cancer research—in a single televised broadcast back in September.

    And osteoporosis has… Sally Field. Joan Rivers. Celebs to be sure, but lending osteoporosis nowhere near the panache and exposure afforded many other health conditions.

    I’m a 7-year breast cancer survivor, and as such enjoy a certain status that comes with that designation. When people learn I’ve had breast cancer, they treat me with a degree of awe and deference that’s totally unwarranted. “Wow… that must have been tough. Cancer, huh? I don’t think I’d be strong enough to go through that.”

    But what did I do, really? I got cancer. I slogged through treatment. I’m still around to talk about it. Yay, me!

    Now, I do a yearly fundraising walk for our local cancer center. I put on my pink shirt, hold out my hand, and people practically throw money at me.

    Where’s the fundraiser for osteoporosis? If I tell people I’m dealing with osteoporosis, what do they say?

    “Oh, yeah? That’s too bad.”

    And the difference is…

    Dying. And youth. And the energy that comes from a “disease startup.”

    While you can certainly die as a result of osteoporosis—from a fall—it doesn’t kill you. There’s not the hypnotic specter of death surrounding osteoporosis that comes with cancer.

    And osteoporosis doesn’t have the poster child that breast cancer (unfortunately) has: the young mother dying of cancer, three pre-schoolers crying at her bedside.

  • Finally, osteoporosis was never a shameful disease, like breast cancer. After being a “women’s problem” for centuries, breast cancer stormed out of the closet in the late ’70s and has been roaring ever since. Betty Ford lit a torch picked up by Komen for the Cure, and the rest is pink ribbon history.

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    Osteoporosis? Well, it does have a slogan, put out by the National Osteoporosis Foundation:

    "Osteoporosis. It's Beatable. It's Treatable."


    I see a serious marketing challenge here. With the majority of Boomer women facing osteoporosis prime time, surely we can do a better job raising both awareness, and dollars.

    Did you know that October 20 is World Osteoporosis Day?


    No, neither did I.

    And that’s a shame.

Published On: January 04, 2009