Background: Ensuring fair comparisons of cancer survival statistics across population groups requires careful consideration of differential competing mortality due to other causes, and adjusting for imbalances over groups in other prognostic covariates (e.g. age). This has typically been achieved using comparisons of age-standardised net survival, with age standardisation addressing covariate imbalance, and the net estimates removing differences in competing mortality from other causes. However, these estimates lack ease of interpretability. In this paper, we motivate an alternative non-parametric approach that uses a common rate of other cause mortality across groups to give reference-adjusted all-cause and cancer-specific estimates rather than reporting net estimates.
Methods: We develop the methodology for a non-parametric equivalent of standardised and reference adjusted crude probabilities of death, building on the estimation of non-parametric crude probabilities of death. We illustrate the approach using regional comparisons of survival following a diagnosis of rectal cancer for men in England. We standardise to the covariate distribution and other cause mortality of England as a whole to offer comparability, but with close approximation to the observed all-cause region-specific mortality.
Results: The approach gives comparable estimates to observed crude probabilities of death, but allows direct comparison across population groups with different covariate profiles and competing mortality patterns. In our illustrative example, we show that regional variations in survival following a diagnosis of rectal cancer persist even after accounting for the variation in deprivation, age at diagnosis and other cause mortality.
Conclusions: The methodological approach of using standardised and reference adjusted metrics offers an appealing approach for future cancer survival comparison studies and routinely published cancer statistics. Our non-parametric estimation approach through the use of weighting offers the ability to estimate comparable survival estimates without the need for statistical modelling.