A drug used to treat osteoporosis in women works just as well in men who have the brittle-bone disease, a study found.
Men account for 20 percent of the 10 million people with osteoporosis, but there are no osteoporosis drugs approved for general use in men.
The latest research, reported in today's New England Journal of Medicine, is the first large study of men given an osteoporosis drug.
"We perceive it as a women's disease and have totally ignored the fact that a lot of men are affected," said one of the researchers, Dr. Eric Orwoll of the Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland, Ore.
Osteoporosis weakens bones and leads to painful and crippling fractures. It afflicts an estimated 8 million women and 2 million men in the United States, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.
Men are at less risk because they have larger, stronger bones and do not suffer the bone loss experienced by women after menopause. The risk factors for men include low testosterone levels, medications such as steroids, smoking, heavy drinking and lack of exercise.
In the study, researchers found that the drug Fosamax, also known as alendronate, was equally effective in men and women in increasing bone density, reducing fractures of the spine and preventing decreases in height.
Orwoll said the researchers expected to see comparable results.
"But the fact that the results were so similar -- that there was absolutely no difference between the genders -- is surprising," he said.