Competing events in patients with malignant disease who are at risk for recurrent venous thromboembolism
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Patients with malignant disease enrolled in trials of thrombotic disorders may experience competing events such as death. The occurrence of a competing event may prevent the thrombotic event from being observed. Standard survival analysis techniques ignore competing risks, resulting in possible bias and distorted inferences. To assess the impact of competing events on the results of a previously reported trial comparing low molecular weight heparin (LMWH) with oral anticoagulant (OAC) therapy for the prevention of recurrent venous thromboembolism (VTE) in patients with advanced cancer, we compare the results from standard survival analysis with those from competing risk techniques which are based on the cumulative incidence function (CIF) and Gray's test. The Kaplan-Meier method overestimates the risk of recurrent VTE (17.2% in the OAC group and 8.7% in the LMWH group). Risk of recurrence using the CIF is 12.0% and 6.0% in the OAC and LMWH groups, respectively. Both the log-rank test (p=0.002) and Gray's test (p=0.006) suggest evidence in favor of LMWH. The overestimation of risk is 30% in each treatment group, resulting in a similar relative treatment effect; using the Cox model the hazard ratio (HR) is 0.48 (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.30 to 0.78) and HR=0.47 (95% CI, 0.29 to 0.74) using the CIF model. Failing to account for competing risks may lead to incorrect interpretations of the probability of recurrent VTE. However, when the distribution of competing risks is similar within each treatment group, standard and competing risk methods yield comparable relative treatment effects.
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