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Keywords:

  • progression-free survival;
  • measurement variability;
  • attenuation of treatment effect;
  • tumor assessment frequency;
  • tumor evaluation;
  • time to progression

For normally distributed data analyzed with linear models, it is well known that measurement error on an independent variable leads to attenuation of the effect of the independent variable on the dependent variable. However, for time-to-event variables such as progression-free survival (PFS), the effect of the measurement variability in the underlying measurements defining the event is less well understood. We conducted a simulation study to evaluate the impact of measurement variability in tumor assessment on the treatment effect hazard ratio for PFS and on the median PFS time, for different tumor assessment frequencies. Our results show that scan measurement variability can cause attenuation of the treatment effect (i.e. the hazard ratio is closer to one) and that the extent of attenuation may be increased with more frequent scan assessments. This attenuation leads to inflation of the type II error. Therefore, scan measurement variability should be minimized as far as possible in order to reveal a treatment effect that is closest to the truth. In disease settings where the measurement variability is shown to be large, consideration may be given to inflating the sample size of the study to maintain statistical power. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.