Background: Projection of future cancer incidence is an important task in cancer epidemiology. The results are of interest also for biomedical research and public health policy. Age-Period-Cohort (APC) models, usually based on long-term cancer registry data (>20yrs), are established for such projections. In many countries (including Germany), however, nationwide long-term data are not yet available. It is unclear which statistical approach should be recommended for projections using rather short-term data.
Methods: To enable a comparative analysis of the performance of statistical approaches to cancer incidence projection, we developed an R package (incAnalysis), supporting in particular Bayesian models fitted by Integrated Nested Laplace Approximations (INLA). Its use is demonstrated by an extensive empirical evaluation of operating characteristics (bias, coverage and precision) of potentially applicable models differing by complexity. Observed long-term data from three cancer registries (SEER-9, NORDCAN, Saarland) was used for benchmarking.
Results: Overall, coverage was high (mostly >90%) for Bayesian APC models (BAPC), whereas less complex models showed differences in coverage dependent on projection-period. Intercept-only models yielded values below 20% for coverage. Bias increased and precision decreased for longer projection periods (>15 years) for all except intercept-only models. Precision was lowest for complex models such as BAPC models, generalized additive models with multivariate smoothers and generalized linear models with age x period interaction effects.
Conclusion: The incAnalysis R package allows a straightforward comparison of cancer incidence rate projection approaches. Further detailed and targeted investigations into model performance in addition to the presented empirical results are recommended to derive guidance on appropriate statistical projection methods in a given setting.