BoneKEy Reports | Reviews

Is there a specific fracture ‘cascade’?

L Joseph Melton
Shreyasee Amin



Different kinds of epidemiologic data provide varying views of the relationships among the main osteoporotic fractures. Descriptive incidence data indicate that distal forearm fractures typically occur earlier than vertebral fractures that, in turn, precede hip fractures late in life. In addition, relative risk estimates document the fact that one osteoporotic fracture increases the risk of subsequent ones. These two observations support the notion of a ‘fracture cascade’ and justify the recent emphasis on secondary prevention, that is, more aggressive treatment of patients presenting with a fracture in order to prevent recurrences. However, the absolute risk of a subsequent fracture given an initial one is modest, and the degree to which the second fracture can be attributed to the first one is unclear. Moreover, the osteoporotic fractures encountered in the majority of patients are the first one experienced, and even these initial fractures lead to substantial morbidity and cost. These latter points reemphasize the importance of primary prevention, that is, the management of bone loss and other risk factors to prevent the first fracture. Continued efforts are needed to refine risk assessment algorithms so that candidates for such fracture prophylaxis can be identified more accurately and efficiently.

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