Practical implementation of frailty models in Mendelian risk prediction

Theodore Huang, Malka Gorfine, Li Hsu, Giovanni Parmigiani, Danielle Braun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


There are numerous statistical models used to identify individuals at high risk of cancer due to inherited mutations. Mendelian models predict future risk of cancer by using family history with estimated cancer penetrances (age- and sex-specific risk of cancer given the genotype of the mutations) and mutation prevalences. However, there is often residual risk heterogeneity across families even after accounting for the mutations in the model, due to environmental or unobserved genetic risk factors. We aim to improve Mendelian risk prediction by incorporating a frailty model that contains a family-specific frailty vector, impacting the cancer hazard function, to account for this heterogeneity. We use a discrete uniform population frailty distribution and implement a marginalized approach that averages each family's risk predictions over the family's frailty distribution. We apply the proposed approach to improve breast cancer prediction in BRCAPRO, a Mendelian model that accounts for inherited mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes to predict breast and ovarian cancer. We evaluate the proposed model's performance in simulations and real data from the Cancer Genetics Network and show improvements in model calibration and discrimination. We also discuss alternative approaches for incorporating frailties and their strengths and limitations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)564-578
Number of pages15
JournalGenetic Epidemiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

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© 2020 Wiley Periodicals LLC


  • family history
  • frailty model
  • mendelian risk prediction
  • survival analysis


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