The best method for the diagnosis of osteoporosis and assessment of fracture risk is currently considered to be bone densitometry. The most commonly used dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) methods may sometimes not predict bone mass accurately in every skeletal site, are expensive and not widely available. The recent development of computed analysis of a plain radiograph of the hand might provide a practical, inexpensive and rapid method for evaluation of bone mineral status. In this study we evaluated 20 healthy premenopausal and 660 postmenopausal women. In 36 of these subjects a second evaluation was carried out after 2 years of therapy with calcium supplements. The internal and external diameters of the second metacarpal and the metacarpal and ultradistal radial bone density were evaluated using a technical device developed in our laboratory and marketed by NIM, Verona, Italy (Osteoradiometer). The radiographic images, captured by a video camera, were digitized and studied by computed analysis. In 150 subjects bone density at the level of the lumbar spine, femur, and ultradistal and proximal radius was also measured by DXA techniques. Both external (D) and internal (d) diameters increase significantly with age and years since menopause (YSM), whereas metacarpal index (D--d/D) and metacarpal and ultradistal radial bone density decrease significantly with age and YSM. The ratio between metacarpal bone mineral content and the cortical area (volumetric metacarpal bone density) did not change with age. Significant correlations were found between radiometric findings and DXA measurements. The best correlation coefficients were between bone density measured at the level of the ultradistal radius by DXA and radiographic absorptiometry. In the 2-year follow-up study, a 4.9% and 6.2% decline in radial metacarpal bone density respectively were observed, but the difference was statistically significant only for the latter. In conclusion, computed radiogrammetry is closely correlated with all DXA measurements and may be useful in screening of large populations, providing a simple, inexpensive and sufficiently precise method for evaluation of bone mineral status. Further studies are warranted for assessing the accuracy of radiogrammetry for longitudinal investigations and its capacity to predict fracture risk.