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Stat Med. 2008 Dec 20;27(29):6037-54. doi: 10.1002/sim.3444.

A Bayesian multilevel model for estimating the diet/disease relationship in a multicenter study with exposures measured with error: the EPIC study.

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International Agency for Research on Cancer, Lyon,


In a multicenter study, the overall relationship between diet and cancer risk can be broken down into: (a) within-center relationships, which reflect the relationships at the individual level in each of the centers, and (b) a between-center relationship, which captures the association between exposure and disease risk at the aggregate level. In this work, we propose the use of a Bayesian multilevel model that takes into account the within- and between-center levels of evidence, using information at the individual and aggregate level. Correction for measurement error is performed in order to correct for systematic between-center measurement error in dietary exposure, and for attenuation biases in relative risk estimates within centers. The estimation of the parameters is carried out in a Bayesian framework using Gibbs sampling. The model entails a measurement, an exposure, and a disease component. Within the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) the association between lipid intake, assessed through dietary questionnaire and 24-hour dietary recall, and breast cancer incidence was evaluated. This analysis involved 21 534 women and 334 incident breast cancer cases from the EPIC calibration study. In this study, total energy intake was positively associated with breast cancer incidence at the aggregate level, whereas no effect was observed for fat. At the individual level, height was positively related to breast cancer incidence, whereas a weaker association was observed for fat. The use of multilevel models, which constitute a very powerful approach to estimating individual vs aggregate levels of evidence should be considered in multicenter studies.

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