UNLABELLED: Pathologic fractures are often excluded in epidemiologic studies of osteoporosis. Using Medicare administrative data, we identified persons with vertebral and hip fractures. Among these, 48% (vertebral) and 3% (hip) of the fractures were coded as pathologic. Only 25% and 66% of persons with these pathologic fractures had evidence for malignancy. INTRODUCTION: Analyses of osteoporosis-related fractures that use administrative data often exclude pathologic fractures (ICD-9 733.1x) due to concern that these are caused by cancer. We examined "pathologic" fractures of the vertebrae and hip to evaluate their contribution to fracture incidence and assessed the evidence for a malignancy. METHODS: We studied US Medicare beneficiaries age > or =65 with new fractures identified using ICD-9 diagnosis codes 733.13 (pathologic vert), 805.0, 805.2, 805.4, 805.8 (nonpathologic vert); and 733.14 (pathologic hip), 820.0, 820.2, 820.8 (nonpathologic hip). We further examined the proportion of cases with a diagnosis of a malignancy proximate to the fracture. RESULTS: We identified 44,120 individuals with a vertebral fracture and 60,354 with a hip fracture. Approximately 48% of vertebral fractures and 3% of hip fractures were coded as pathologic. For only approximately 25% of persons with a "pathologic" vertebral fracture ICD-9 code, but 66% of persons with a "pathologic" hip fracture, there was evidence of a possible cancer diagnosis. CONCLUSION: Among US Medicare beneficiaries, one fourth of pathologic vertebral fracture and two thirds of pathologic hip fracture cases had evidence for a malignancy. Particularly for vertebral fractures, excluding persons with pathologic fractures in epidemiologic analyses that utilize administrative claims data substantially underestimates the burden of fractures due to osteoporosis.