Converting relative risks to absolute risks: a graphical approach

Stat Med. 1989 Jun;8(6):641-51. doi: 10.1002/sim.4780080603.


This paper presents a graphical method for converting relative risks to absolute risks. These absolute risk estimates are a function of the patient's current age, the patient's risk of developing cancer relative to some baseline population, the age specific cancer hazard in the baseline population, and the patient's competing mortal risk from all other causes. Graphs for breast cancer morbidity in women, cardiovascular mortality in men, and lung cancer morbidity in men illustrate the method. These graphs provide the probability of developing cancer in the next twenty years given the patient's current age and relative risk. They are derived under the proportional hazards model. A graph for lung cancer in men that uses a plausible exponential hazards model is also provided. The paper illustrates the importance of competing mortal hazard from other causes on absolute cancer risk. The strengths and weaknesses of this method are discussed. The graphs presented in this paper may be used as an aid in clinical decision making and in patient counselling.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / mortality
  • Female
  • Health Status Indicators*
  • Health Surveys*
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / mortality
  • Male
  • Mathematical Computing
  • Mathematics
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Statistical
  • Risk Factors*