Biases in Studies of Screening Programs

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Biases in Studies of Screening
Programs
Thomas B. Newman, MD, MPH
June 10, 2011
Overview

Introduction
– TN Biases
– Defintions

Problems with observational studies
– Volunteer bias
– Lead time bias
– Length bias
– Stage migration bias
– Pseudodisease
Screening tests: TN Biases




“When your only tool is a hammer, you
tend to see every problem as a nail.”
Clinical care accounts for 95% of
spending but only 20% of determinants
of health*
Biggest threats are public health threats
Interventions aimed at individuals are
overemphasized because they are more
profitable and we know how to do/sell
them
*Teutsch SM, Fielding JE. Comparative effectiveness:
looking under the lamppost. JAMA 2011; 305:2225-6
Cultural characteristics
"We live in a wasteful, technology
driven, individualistic and deathdenying culture."
--George Annas, New Engl J Med, 1995
What is screening?


Common definition: testing to detect
asymptomatic disease
Better definition*: application of a test to
detect a potential disease or condition in
people with no known signs or
symptoms of that disease or condition.
– Disease vs. condition
– Asymptomatic vs. no known signs or
symptoms
*Common screening tests. David M. Eddy, editor. Philadelphia, PA:
American College of Physicians, 1991
Screening tests may be history questions
Screening Spectrum
Risk factor
Presymptomatic
disease
Unrecognized
symptomatic
disease
Recognized
symptomatic
disease
Decreasing numbers labeled and treated
Decreasing difficulty demonstrating benefit
Examples and overlap




Unrecognized symptomatic disease: vision
and hearing problems in young children; iron
deficiency anemia, depression
Presymptomatic disease: neonatal
hypothyroidism, syphilis, HIV
Risk factor: hypercholesterolemia,
hypertension
Somewhere between: prostate cancer,
ductal carcinoma in situ of the breast, more
severe hypertension
Evaluating Studies of Screening

Ideal Study:
– Randomize patients to be screened or
not
– Compare outcomes in ENTIRE
screened group to ENTIRE
unscreened group
Screened
R
Not screened
D+
DD+
D-
Mortality after
Randomization
Mortaltiy after
Randomization
Observational studies: Patients
are not randomized


Compare outcomes in screened vs.
unscreened patients
Or among patients with disease:
– Compare outcomes in those diagnosed by
screening vs. those diagnosed by
symptoms
– Compare stage-specific survival with and
without screening
KEY DIFFERENCE: Mortality vs.
Survival



Mortality: denominator is a population,
most of whom never get the disease
Survival: denominator is patients with
the disease
Beware of any studies evaluating
screening tests using survival
Possible Biases in Observational
Studies of Screening Tests





Volunteer bias
Lead time bias
Length time bias
Stage migration bias
Pseudodisease
Volunteer Bias


People who volunteer for screening
differ from those who do not
Examples
– HIP Mammography study:
• Women who volunteered for mammography
had lower heart disease death rates
– Multicenter Aneurysm Screening Study
(MASS; Problem 6.3)
• Men aged 65-74 were randomized to either
receive an invitation for an abdominal
ultrasound scan or not.
MASS Within Groups Result in
Invited Group
MASS -- Invited Group Only
N
AAA Death
Scanned
27,147
43
Not Scanned 6,692
22
33,839
65
%
Total Death %
0.16%
2,590
9.54%
0.33%
1,160
17.33%
3,750
Avoiding Volunteer Bias


Randomize patients to screened and
unscreened
Otherwise, try to control for factors
(confounders) associated with both
screening and outcome
– Examples: family history, level of health
concern, other health behaviors, baseline
health/illnesses
Lead Time Bias (zero-time bias)


Screening identifies disease during a
latent period before it becomes
symptomatic
If survival is measured from time of
diagnosis, screening will always improve
survival even if treatment is ineffective
Lead time bias
Source: EDITORIAL: Finding and Redefining Disease. Effective Clinical Practice,
March/April 1999. Available at: ACP- Online
http://www.acponline.org/journals/ecp/marapr99/primer.htm accessed 8/30/02
Avoiding Lead Time Bias

Only occurs when survival from
diagnosis is compared between
diseased persons
– Screened vs. not screened
– Diagnosed by screening vs. by symptoms

Avoiding lead time bias
– Measure mortality, not survival
– Count from date of randomization
– Follow patients for a long time (20 years?)
and use total, not e.g. 5-year survival
Length Bias (Different natural history
bias)



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Screening picks up prevalent disease
Prevalence = incidence x duration
Slowly growing tumors have greater duration
in presymptomatic phase, therefore greater
prevalence
Therefore, cases picked up by screening will
be disproportionately those that are slow
growing
Length bias
Source: EDITORIAL: Finding and Redefining Disease. Effective Clinical Practice, March/April 1999.
Available at: ACP- Online http://www.acponline.org/journals/ecp/marapr99/primer.htm
Length Bias
Slower growing
tumor with
better prognosis
Early detection
?
Higher cure rate
Avoiding Length Bias

Only present when
– survival from diagnosis is compared
– AND disease is heterogeneous


Lead time bias usually present as well
Avoiding length bias:
– Compare mortality in the ENTIRE
screened group to the ENTIRE
unscreened group
– Study disease subgroups with a uniform
natural history
Stage migration bias
Stage 0
Stage 0
Stage 1
Stage 1
Stage 2
Stage 2
Stage 3
Stage 3
Stage 4
Old tests
Stage 4
New tests
Stage migration bias

Also called the "Will Rogers
Phenomenon"
– "When the Okies left Oklahoma and moved
to California, they raised the average
intelligence level in both states."
-- Will Rogers


Documented with colon cancer at Yale
Other examples abound – the more you
look for disease, the higher the
prevalence and the better the prognosis
Best reference on this topic: Black WC and Welch HG. Advances in
diagnostic imaging and overestimation of disease prevalence and the
benefits of therapy. NEJM 1993;328:1237-43.
A more general example of Stage
Migration Bias


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VLBW (< 1500 g), LBW (1500-2499 g) and
NBW (> 2500 g) newborns exposed to Factor
X in utero have decreased mortality
compared with those not exposed
Is factor X good?
Maybe not! Factor X could be cigarette
smoking!
– Smoking moves babies to lower birthweight strata
– Compared with other causes of LBW (i.e.,
prematurity) it is not as bad
Stage Migration Bias
NBW
NBW
LBW
LBW
VLBW
VLBW
Unexposed to
smoke
Exposed to
smoke
Avoiding Stage Migration Bias

The harder you look for disease, and the
more advanced the technology
– the higher the prevalence, the higher the stage,
and the better the (apparent) outcome for the
stage

Beware of stage migration in any stratified
analysis
– Check OVERALL survival in screened vs.
unscreened group

More generally, do not stratify on factors
distal in a causal pathway to the factor you
wish to evaluate!
Pseudodisease

A condition that looks just like the disease,
but never would have bothered the patient
– Type I: Disease which would never cause
symptoms
– Type II: Preclinical disease in people who will die
from another cause before disease presents


In an individual treated patient it is impossible
to distinguish pseudodisease from
successfully treated asymptomatic disease
The Problem:
– Treating pseudodisease will always look
successful
– Treating pseudodisease will always be harmful
Example: Mayo Lung Project


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RCT of lung cancer screening
Enrollment 1971-76
9,211 male smokers randomized to two
study arms
– Intervention: chest x-ray and sputum
cytology every 4 months for 6 years (75%
compliance)
– Control: Tests at trial entry, then a
recommendation to receive the same tests
annually
*Marcus et al., JNCI 2000;92:1308-16
Mayo Lung Project Extended Follow-up
Results*

Among those with lung cancer, intervention group
had more cancers diagnosed at early stage and
better survival
*Marcus et al., JNCI 2000;92:1308-16
MLP Extended Follow-up Results*

Intervention group: slight increase in lungcancer mortality (P=0.09 by 1996)
*Marcus et al., JNCI 2000;92:1308-16
What happened?

After 20 years of follow up, there was a
significant increase (29%) in the total
number of lung cancers in the screened
group
– Excess of tumors in early stage
– No decrease in late stage tumors

Overdiagnosis (pseudodisease)
Black W. Overdiagnosis: an underrecognized cause of
confusion and harm in cancer screening. JNCI
2000;92:1308-16
Looking for Pseudodisease
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Appreciate the varying natural history of
disease, and limits of diagnosis
Impossible to distinguish from successful cure
of (asymptomatic) disease in individual
patient
Few compelling stories of pseudodisease…
Clues to pseudodisease:
– Higher cumulative incidence of disease in
screened group
– No difference in overall mortality between
screened and unscreened groups
Each year, 182,000 women are diagnosed with breast
cancer and 43,300 die. One woman in eight either has or
will develop breast cancer in her lifetime...
If detected early, the five-year survival rate exceeds 95%.
Mammograms are among the best early detection methods,
yet 13 million women in the U.S. are 40 years old or older
and have never had a mammogram.
39,800 Clicks per mammogram (Sept, ’04)
Why is this misleading


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Each year 43,000 die, 182,000 new
cases suggests mortality is ~24%
5-year survival > 95% with early
detection suggests < 5% mortality,
suggesting about 80% of these deaths
preventable
Actual efficacy is closer < 20% for
breast cancer mortality (lower for total
mortality)
Questions?
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