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Risk: Relative vs. Absolute November 22, 2009

Posted by Admin in Cancer, Health Insurance, huh?.
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What is the risk of getting cancer? There are two types of risk, absolute and relative.

If you are over 35, try out the breast cancer risk assessment tool at cancer.gov. There are also tools for colorectal cancer and melanoma.

Also from cancer.gov:

Absolute risk is the number of people who will get the disease within a certain time period. Absolute risk gives an actual number of people with that risk factor who will get the condition. You also may see this expressed as, for example, “10 out of 100 people.”

Relative risk compares the chance that a person with a certain risk factor will get cancer to the chance that a person without the same risk factor will get cancer. When you hear that someone is at “high” risk or “low” risk of getting cancer, it is referring to that person’s relative risk.

Relative risk is usually shown as a percent or ratio. The ratio is based around the value of 1. A value above 1 means a higher risk; a value below 1 means a lower risk.

There are different kinds of risk factors, they include genetic (I have a second degree relative with a cancer history-2 generations away), environmental (secondhand smoke exposure and sun), biological (gender, age, race, skin complexion), or behavioral (what I eat and drink, how much exercise I get).

When I was diagnosed with cancer, I had no risk factors. No first degree relatives, (in fact I didn’t know that I had any relatives with cancer until I was asked the family history question for the first time), no second-hand smoke exposure-unless you count flying in the 70’s) , didn’t come from an ethnic group at higher risk etc. Regular readers will recall that I do not have the BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 mutations either. Cancer was a complete surprise to me.

I had to fight to get a mammogram back then. When I eventually did, it turned into several right away. So I have been getting mammograms for most of my adult life. I have also been taught that cancer is a bad thing and one deals with it in certain ways. I put my own spin on it initially by opting for a lumpectomy; deciding that there was plenty of time to be invasive later.

If some cancers should now be left alone, because we will die of other things first, much patient education needs to begin, and include women age 18 and up.

I was too young for the risk assessment tool above when I had it first. Women who have breast cancer at an early age pass on an unwanted inheritance to their daughters-the gift of early screening. It needs to begin ten years prior to their mother’s diagnosis.

The recent report of a possible breast cancer advice shift needs to clearly address the entire population of women. Young women with cancer, women with different risk factors were ignored in the recommendations or maybe just the media reporting. The Secretary of Health and Human Services could also address these missing groups of women in her recommendations.




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