A web-based calculator that helps middle-aged women predict their risks of conditions that become more likely with age has been developed by public health, medical and computer science experts from throughout the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.
Led by physician John Robbins of UC Davis Health, the team’s risk-prediction calculator is unique in that it accounts for multiple health conditions at once, rather than one at a time. It also identifies the changing probability of those conditions over time.
“It gives women and their physicians a sense of what to focus on,” Robbins said. “Most are concerned about breast cancer and, of course, they absolutely should be. But if your history and lifestyle indicate that your greatest risk is heart disease, that should be your number one concern.”
Based on WHI data
The calculator is based on data from the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), a long-term study of more than 160,000 diverse U.S. women aged 50 to 79. WHI’s comprehensive demographic, lifestyle, medical history and health outcomes information has supported groundbreaking studies aimed at improving care for postmenopausal women. Robbins previously used the data to study how genetically derived ancestry affects disease risk. He also was principal investigator for the UC Davis WHI site.
The result of his current WHI-based study is an interactive, web-based calculator that, after answering about 35 questions related to current and past health and family history, shows a woman’s probability of experiencing heart attack, stroke, hip fracture, or breast, lung or colorectal cancer within 5, 10 or 15 years.
A comparison of likely risks
“The risk of one disease is always relative to the risks of another, and our tool accounts for those competing risks,” Robbins said. “The goal is to help women stop worrying too much about age-related health risks that aren’t likely to be factors for them and then address the ones that are.”
Robbins’ collaborators were lead author Haley Hedlin, Julie Weitlauf and Marica Stefanick of Stanford University; Carolyn Crandall of UCLA; Rami Nassir of Umm Al-Qura University in Saudi Arabia (a former UC Davis graduate student); Jane Cauley of the University of Pittsburgh; Lorena Garcia of UC Davis; Robert Brunner of the University of Nevada, Reno; and Jennifer Robinson of the University of Iowa.
The WHI is funded by the National Institutes of Health.
“Development of a Comprehensive Health-Risk Prediction Tool for Postmenopausal Women” is online in the journal Menopause.