To the Editor.—
It is often asserted that "one out of every 11 women in this country will develop breast cancer at some point in her life" (US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret M. Heckler, Nov 13, 1985). This statement misrepresents the risk (the probability of a specific event over a specified interval) of breast cancer to American women and is misinterpreted and misused by many. The statistical basis for this specific number derives from a calculation, using life-table methods, of the cumulative probability of developing breast cancer each year from ages 1 to 85.1 That this number is, or might be, an accurate reflection of the experience of any group of women depends on the stability of the age-specific incidence rates over life-times. In fact, age-specific breast cancer incidence rates are probably changing.2 Of greater concern, however, is that individual women assume that this
Love RR. The Risk of Breast Cancer in American Women. JAMA. 1987;257(11):1470. doi:10.1001/jama.1987.03390110046009
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