Estimating lifetime and age-conditional probabilities of developing cancer

Lifetime Data Anal. 1998;4(2):169-86. doi: 10.1023/a:1009685507602.


Lifetime and age-conditional risk estimates of developing cancer provide a useful summary to the public of the current cancer risk and how this risk compares with earlier periods and among select subgroups of society. These reported estimates, commonly quoted in the popular press, have the potential to promote early detection efforts, to increase cancer awareness, and to serve as an aid in study planning. However, they can also be easily misunderstood and frightening to the general public. The Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program of the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society have recently begun including in annual reports lifetime and age-conditional risk estimates of developing cancer. These risk estimates are based on incidence rates that reflect new cases of the cancer in a population free of the cancer. To compute these estimates involves a cancer prevalence adjustment that is computed cross-sectionally from current incidence and mortality data derived within a multiple decrement life table. This paper presents a detailed description of the methodology for deriving lifetime and age-conditional risk estimates of developing cancer. In addition, an extension is made which, using a triple decrement life table, adjusts for a surgical procedure that removes individuals from the risk of developing a given cancer. Two important results which provide insights into the basic methodology are included in the discussion. First, the lifetime risk estimate does not depend on the cancer prevalence adjustment, although this is not the case for age-conditional risk estimates. Second, the lifetime risk estimate is always smaller when it is corrected for a surgical procedure that takes people out of the risk pool to develop the cancer. The methodology is applied to corpus and uterus NOS cancers, with a correction made for hysterectomy prevalence. The interpretation and limitations of risk estimates are also discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age of Onset*
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hysterectomy / statistics & numerical data
  • Incidence
  • Life Tables*
  • Male
  • Mathematical Computing
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Statistical
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Probability
  • Risk Assessment*
  • Survival Rate
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Uterine Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Uterine Neoplasms / mortality
  • Uterine Neoplasms / surgery