Statistics in Medicine

Cumulative cause‐specific mortality for cancer patients in the presence of other causes: a crude analogue of relative survival

Journal Article


A common population‐based cancer progress measure for net survival (survival in the absence of other causes) of cancer patients is relative survival. Relative survival is defined as the ratio of a population of observed survivors in a cohort of cancer patients to the proportion of expected survivors in a comparable set of cancer‐free individuals in the general public, thus giving a measure of excess mortality due to cancer. Relative survival was originally designed to address the question of whether or not there is evidence that patients have been cured. It has proven to be a useful survival measure in several areas, including the evaluation of cancer control efforts and the application of cure models. However, it is not representative of the actual survival patterns observed in a cohort of cancer patients. This paper suggests a measure for cumulative crude (in the presence of other causes) cause‐specific probability of death for a population diagnosed with cancer. The measure does not use cause of death information which can be unreliable for population cancer registries. Point estimates and variances are derived for crude cause‐specific probability of death using relative survival instead of cause of death information. Examples are given for men diagnosed with localized prostate cancer over the age of 70 and women diagnosed with regional breast cancer using Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Program data. The examples emphasize the differences in crude and net mortality measures and suggest areas where a crude measure is more informative. Estimates of this type are especially important for older patients as new screening modalities detect cancers earlier and choice of treatment or even ‘watchful waiting’ become viable options. Published in 2000 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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