In a large proportion of the patients with primary hyperparathyroidism (PHPT), a variable degree of osteopenia is the only relevant manifestation of the disease. Low bone mineral density (BMD) in patients with PHPT is an indication for surgical intervention because successful parathyroidectomy results in a dramatic increase in BMD. However, low BMD values are almost an invariable finding in elderly women with PHPT, who are often either unwilling or considered unfit for surgery. Bisphosphonates are capable of suppressing parathyroid hormone (PTH)-mediated bone resorption and are useful for the prevention and treatment of postmenopausal osteoporosis. In this pilot-controlled study, we investigated the effects of oral treatment with alendronate on BMD and biochemical markers of calcium and bone metabolism in elderly women presenting osteoporosis and mild PHPT. Twenty-six elderly patients aged 67-81 years were randomized for treatment with either oral 10 mg alendronate on alternate-day treatment or no treatment for 2 years. In the control untreated patients a slight significant decrease was observed for total body and femoral neck BMD, without significant changes in biochemical markers of calcium and bone metabolism during the 2 years of observation. Urine deoxypyridinoline (Dpyr) excretion significantly fell within the first month of treatment with alendronate, while serum markers of bone formation alkaline phosphatase and osteocalcin fell more gradually and the decrease became significant only after 3 months of treatment; thereafter all bone turnover markers remained consistently suppressed during alendronate treatment. After 2 years in this group we observed statistically significant increases in BMD at lumbar spine, total hip, and total body (+8.6 +/- 3.0%, +4.8 +/- 3.9%, and +1.2 +/- 1.4% changes vs. baseline mean +/- SD) versus both baseline and control patients. Serum calcium, serum phosphate, and urinary calcium excretion significantly decreased during the first 3-6 months but rose back to the baseline values afterward. Increase in serum PTH level was statistically significant during the first year of treatment. These preliminary results may make alendronate a candidate as a supportive therapy in patients with mild PHPT who are unwilling or are unsuitable for surgery, and for whom osteoporosis is a reason of concern.