Tests for multivariate recurrent events in the presence of a terminal event
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In studies involving diseases associated with high rates of mortality, trials are frequently conducted to evaluate the effects of therapeutic interventions on recurrent event processes terminated by death. In this setting, cumulative mean functions form a natural basis for inference for questions of a health economic nature, and Ghosh and Lin (2000) recently proposed a relevant class of test statistics. Trials of patients with cancer metastatic to bone, however, involve multiple types of skeletal complications, each of which may be repeatedly experienced by patients over their lifetime. Traditionally the distinction between the various types of events is ignored and univariate analyses are conducted based on a composite recurrent event. However, when the events have different impacts on patients' quality of life, or when they incur different costs, it can be important to gain insight into the relative frequency of the specific types of events and treatment effects thereon. This may be achieved by conducting separate marginal analyses with each analysis focusing on one type of recurrent event. Global inferences regarding treatment benefit can then be achieved by carrying out multiplicity adjusted marginal tests, more formal multiple testing procedures, or by constructing global test statistics. We describe methods for testing for differences in mean functions between treatment groups which accommodate the fact that each particular event process is ultimately terminated by death. The methods are illustrated by application to a motivating study designed to examine the effect of bisphosphonate therapy on the incidence of skeletal complications among patients with breast cancer metastatic to bone. We find that there is a consistent trend towards a reduction in the cumulative mean for all four types of skeletal complications with bisphosphonate therapy; there is a significant reduction in the need for radiation therapy for the treatment of bone. The global test suggests that bisphosphonate therapy significantly reduces the overall number of skeletal complications.
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