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Assessment of lead-time bias in estimates of relative survival for breast cancer.
Andersson TM, Rutherford MJ, Humphreys K. Assessment of lead-time bias in estimates of relative survival for breast cancer. Cancer epidemiology. 2017 Feb 1; 46:50-56.
Relative survival ratios (RSRs) can be useful for evaluating the impact of changes in cancer care on the prognosis of cancer patients or for comparing the prognosis for different subgroups of patients, but their use is problematic for cancer sites where screening has been introduced due to the potential of lead-time bias. Lead-time is survival time that is added to a patient's survival time because of an earlier diagnosis irrespective of a possibly postponed time of death. In the presence of screening it is difficult to disentangle how much of an observed improvement in survival is real and how much is due to lead-time bias. Even so, RSRs are often presented for breast cancer, a site where screening has led to early diagnosis, with the assumption that the lead-time bias is small. We describe a simulation-based framework for studying the lead-time bias due to mammography screening on RSRs of breast cancer based on a natural history model developed in a Swedish setting. We have performed simulations, using this framework, under different assumptions for screening sensitivity and breast cancer survival with the aim of estimating the lead-time bias. Screening every second year among ages 40-75 was introduced assuming that screening had no effect on survival, except for lead-time bias. Relative survival was estimated both with and without screening to enable quantification of the lead-time bias. Scenarios with low, moderate and high breast cancer survival, and low, moderate and high screening sensitivity were simulated, and the lead-time bias assessed in all scenarios.