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Int J Biostat. 2011;7(1):Article 33. doi: 10.2202/1557-4679.1351. Epub 2011 Sep 2.

On causal mediation analysis with a survival outcome.

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Harvard University, USA.


Suppose that having established a marginal total effect of a point exposure on a time-to-event outcome, an investigator wishes to decompose this effect into its direct and indirect pathways, also known as natural direct and indirect effects, mediated by a variable known to occur after the exposure and prior to the outcome. This paper proposes a theory of estimation of natural direct and indirect effects in two important semiparametric models for a failure time outcome. The underlying survival model for the marginal total effect and thus for the direct and indirect effects, can either be a marginal structural Cox proportional hazards model, or a marginal structural additive hazards model. The proposed theory delivers new estimators for mediation analysis in each of these models, with appealing robustness properties. Specifically, in order to guarantee ignorability with respect to the exposure and mediator variables, the approach, which is multiply robust, allows the investigator to use several flexible working models to adjust for confounding by a large number of pre-exposure variables. Multiple robustness is appealing because it only requires a subset of working models to be correct for consistency; furthermore, the analyst need not know which subset of working models is in fact correct to report valid inferences. Finally, a novel semiparametric sensitivity analysis technique is developed for each of these models, to assess the impact on inference, of a violation of the assumption of ignorability of the mediator.


Cox proportional hazards model; additive hazards model; multiple robustness; natural direct effect; natural indirect effect

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