A reference relative time-scale as an alternative to chronological age for cohorts with long follow-up

Hurley, Margaret Anne orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-2502-432X (2015) A reference relative time-scale as an alternative to chronological age for cohorts with long follow-up. Emerging Themes in Epidemiology, 12 . p. 18. ISSN 1742-7622

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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12982-015-0043-6


Background: Epidemiologists have debated the appropriate time-scale for cohort survival studies; chronological age or time-on-study being two such time-scales. Importantly, assessment of risk factors may depend on the choice of time-scale. Recently, chronological or attained age has gained support but a case can be made for a ‘reference relative time-scale’ as an alternative which circumvents difficulties that arise with this and other scales. The reference relative time of an individual participant is the integral of a reference population hazard function between time of entry and time of exit of the individual. The objective here is to describe the reference relative time-scale, illustrate its use, make comparison with attained age by simulation and explain its relationship to modern and traditional epidemiologic methods.
Results: A comparison was made between two models; a stratified Cox model with age as the time-scale versus an un-stratified Cox model using the reference relative time-scale. The illustrative comparison used a UK cohort of cotton workers, with differing ages at entry to the study, with accrual over a time period and with long follow-up. Additionally, exponential and Weibull models were fitted since the reference relative time-scale analysis need not be restricted to the Cox model. A simulation study showed that analysis using the reference relative time-scale and analysis using chronological age had very similar power to detect a significant risk factor and both were equally unbiased. Further, the analysis using the reference relative time-scale supported fully-parametric survival modelling and allowed percentile predictions and mortality curves to be constructed.
Conclusions: The reference relative time-scale was a viable alternative to chronological age, led to simplification of the modelling process and possessed the defined features of a good time-scale as defined in reliability theory. The reference relative time-scale has several interpretations and provides a unifying concept that links contemporary approaches in survival and reliability analysis to the traditional epidemiologic methods of Poisson regression and standardised mortality ratios. The community of practitioners has not previously made this connection.

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