Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Effect of an event occurring over time and confounded by health status: estimation and interpretation. A study based on survival data simulations with application on breast cancer

Alexia Savignoni, David Hajage, Pascale Tubert-Bitter and Yann De Ryckea have a new paper in Statistics in Medicine. This considers developing illness-death type models to investigate the effect of pregnancy on the risk of recurrence of cancer amongst breast cancer patients. The authors give a fairly clear account of different potential models with particular reference to the hazard ratio The simplest model to consider is a Cox model with a single time dependent covariate representing pregnancy, here . This can be extended by assuming non-proportional hazards which effectively makes the effect time dependent i.e. . Alternatively, an unrestricted Cox-Markov model could be fitted with separate covariate effects and non-parametric hazards from each pregnancy state, yielding: This model can be restricted by allowing a shared baseline hazard for giving either under a Cox model with a fixed effect or for a time dependent effect.

If we were only interested in and any of these models seems feasible, there doesn't actual seem that much point in formulating the model as an illness-death model. Note that the transition rate does not feature in any of the above equations but would be estimated in the illness-death model. The above models can be fitted by a Cox model with a time dependent covariate (representing pregnancy) that has an interaction with the time fixed covariates. The real power of a multi-state model approach would only become apparent if we were interested in the overall survival for different covariates, treating pregnancy as a random event.

The time dependent effects are represented simply via a piecewise constant time indicator in the model. The authors do acknowledge that a spline model would have been better. The other issue that could have been considered is whether the effect of pregnancy depends on time since initiation of pregnancy (i.e. a semi-Markov effect). An issue in their data example is that pregnancy is only determined via a successful birth meaning there may be some truncation in the sample (through births prevented due to relapse/death).

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