Researchers have discovered a new way of predicting whether a woman is at risk of cancer of the breast, ovaries, or uterus, according to a study published in the journal PLoS Medicine.

Researchers from the National Cancer Institute and colleagues from other US medical institutes developed “absolute risk prediction models” that could help women predict their chances of developing breast, ovarian or endometrial cancer.

The researchers say that these models could help with clinical decision-making for patients.

To create the models, the researchers analyzed common cancer risk factors in women involved in two large US studies – the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study (NIH-AARP) and the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial (PLCO).

The studies included white, non-Hispanic women aged over 50 years.

Some of the common risk factors included were:

  • Parity (the number of children a woman had delivered)
  • Body mass index
  • Use of oral contraceptives
  • Menopausal status
  • Use of menopausal hormone therapy.

The study authors say their research gave absolute risk prediction models that were able to predict women’s individual risks of each of the three cancers.

The individual risk of endometrial cancer, for example, ranged from 0.5% to 29.5% over the next 20 years – with each woman’s results depending on their exposure to certain risk factors.

The study authors say their findings show that breast, ovarian and endometrial cancer can all be predicted using easily-obtainable information on known risk factors.

They add: “We developed and assessed models that project the probabilities of developing breast, endometrial, or ovarian cancer among white, non-Hispanic women aged over 50 years.”

The authors say:

These models might improve the ability to identify potential participants for research studies and assist in clinical decision-making related to the risks of these cancers.”

The models are not always applicable though, the researchers warn. They will not predict a cancer risk for women who already have a previous diagnosis of the particular condition, or who are already known to be at a much higher risk.

They explain: “Our models are not intended to predict the probability of the three cancers among women known to be at much higher than average risk. For example, women with a mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2 or with hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC).”

The calculations can, however, predict a woman’s risk of a type of cancer that is different from one she has already suffered.

“Each model is applicable to women without a prior diagnosis of that particular cancer, and thus in principle the breast cancer model can be applied to predict breast cancer risk for women with a prior diagnosis of any other cancer, including endometrial cancer.”

Since the prediction models were developed from studies involving white, non-Hispanic women, the researchers caution that they may not be accurate for women of other ethnicities.