The simple test could prevent three in 10 hip fractures among older women, which equates to 8,000 women each year.
The test pinpoints the risk of osteoporosis, which affects nearly three million people in Britain and is linked to a shorter life.
The debilitating condition weakens bones, making them fragile and more likely to break, leading to more than 500,000 fractures every year.
But as there are no tell-tale early symptoms – a third of patients are unaware they have the devastating condition until they suffer a fracture.
A fifth of victims die within a year because the ensuing surgery can lead to heart problems, pneumonia and blood clots.
Scientists last night welcomed the “helpful” test. It could save the cash-strapped NHS millions of pounds.
Each year the NHS treats 79,000 hip fractures costing over £1.1billion. A simple questionnaire would allow those most at risk to be tested for levels of calcium and other minerals, enabling early drug treatment.
The study of almost 12,500 women aged 70 to 85 found the screening led to a 28 per cent reduction in hip fractures over five years.
Lead researcher Professor Lee Shepstone, of the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School, said: “Approximately one in three women and one in five men aged over 50 years will suffer a fragility fracture.
“In the UK around 536,000 people suffer fragility fractures each year, including 79,000 hip fractures. A hip fracture can be devastating with a loss of independence and less than one third of patients make a full recovery. Mortality at one-year post-fracture is approximately 20 per cent.”
He added: “We wanted to find out whether screening could help identify those at risk.”
The large-scale screening study was carried out by more than 100 GP practices in seven regions – Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester, Norwich, Sheffield, Southampton and York.
Prof Shepstone’s team used FRAX (Fracture Risk Assessment Tool), developed by the University of Sheffield, which predicts the probability of a fracture of the hip, spine or arm to identify older women with osteoporosis.
FRAX uses height, weight and medical, smoking and family history to predict a person’s risk of developing osteoporosis over the next 10 years.
This can help a GP decide whether to send them for a bone scan or advise preventative measures, which can be changes to lifestyle and diet, as well as medications.
The SCOOP (Screening for Osteoporosis in Older women for the Prevention of fracture) study published in The Lancet suggests one hip fracture could be prevented for every 111 women screened.