We conducted studies to measure sources of assay variability for estrone, estradiol, estrone sulfate, and progesterone for postmenopausal women (n = 5) and for women in the mid-follicular (n = 5) and mid-luteal (n = 5) phases of the menstrual cycle. A single blood sample from each woman was divided into 2.5-ml aliquots and stored at -70 degrees C, and sets of two aliquots were sent at monthly intervals to each of three laboratories (four for progesterone). Each aliquot was analyzed in duplicate. Thus, within each menstrual category, we were able to estimate the components of variance due to variation among women, variation among aliquots, variation among duplicate measurements, and variation among the 4 analysis days. Using the logarithm of assay measurements, we estimated the percentage of variance attributable to variation among women in each menstrual category, 100 rho, is the estimated intraclass correlation. For each assay, 100 rho exceeded 90% for mid-follicular and mid-luteal women. For postmenopausal women, values of 100 rho exceed 84% for estrone in two laboratories. Values of 100 rho were lower for progesterone in postmenopausal women, although a value of 84% was estimated from one laboratory. These studies indicate that estrogen assays over a period of 3 months permit reliable comparisons among women in a given menstrual category. Progesterone measurements are likewise reliable for women in the mid-follicular and mid-luteal phases but somewhat less satisfactory for postmenopausal women. These assessments of variability pertain only to laboratory techniques and do not allow for secular variation in intra-woman hormone levels. Moreover, although these measurements tend to be reliable enough for making comparisons among women, estimates of coefficients of variation for estrogens are about 10% for mid-follicular and mid-luteal phase women and about 11-20% for postmenopausal women. Coefficients of variation for progesterone are about 10% for mid-luteal, 20% for mid-follicular, and 30% for postmenopausal women.

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