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Trials. 2008 May 22;9:30. doi: 10.1186/1745-6215-9-30.

Competing risk and heterogeneity of treatment effect in clinical trials.

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1
Institute for Clinical Research and Health Policy Studies, Department of Medicine, Tufts Medical Center, 750 Washington St, #63, Boston, MA, 02111, USA. dkent1@tufts-nemc.org

Abstract

It has been demonstrated that patients enrolled in clinical trials frequently have a large degree of variation in their baseline risk for the outcome of interest. Thus, some have suggested that clinical trial results should routinely be stratified by outcome risk using risk models, since the summary results may otherwise be misleading. However, variation in competing risk is another dimension of risk heterogeneity that may also underlie treatment effect heterogeneity. Understanding the effects of competing risk heterogeneity may be especially important for pragmatic comparative effectiveness trials, which seek to include traditionally excluded patients, such as the elderly or complex patients with multiple comorbidities. Indeed, the observed effect of an intervention is dependent on the ratio of outcome risk to competing risk, and these risks - which may or may not be correlated - may vary considerably in patients enrolled in a trial. Further, the effects of competing risk on treatment effect heterogeneity can be amplified by even a small degree of treatment related harm. Stratification of trial results along both the competing and the outcome risk dimensions may be necessary if pragmatic comparative effectiveness trials are to provide the clinically useful information their advocates intend.

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