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Correction of confounding bias in non-randomized studies by appropriate weighting



In non-randomized studies, the assessment of a causal effect of treatment or exposure on outcome is hampered by possible confounding. Applying multiple regression models including the effects of treatment and covariates on outcome is the well-known classical approach to adjust for confounding. In recent years other approaches have been promoted. One of them is based on the propensity score and considers the effect of possible confounders on treatment as a relevant criterion for adjustment. Another proposal is based on using an instrumental variable. Here inference relies on a factor, the instrument, which affects treatment but is thought to be otherwise unrelated to outcome, so that it mimics randomization. Each of these approaches can basically be interpreted as a simple reweighting scheme, designed to address confounding. The procedures will be compared with respect to their fundamental properties, namely, which bias they aim to eliminate, which effect they aim to estimate, and which parameter is modelled. We will expand our overview of methods for analysis of non-randomized studies to methods for analysis of randomized controlled trials and show that analyses of both study types may target different effects and different parameters. The considerations will be illustrated using a breast cancer study with a so-called Comprehensive Cohort Study design, including a randomized controlled trial and a non-randomized study in the same patient population as sub-cohorts. This design offers ideal opportunities to discuss and illustrate the properties of the different approaches.