A non-parametric procedure for evaluating treatment effect in the meta-analysis of survival data



This paper addresses the problem of combining information from independent clinical trials which compare survival distributions of two treatment groups. Current meta-analytic methods which take censoring into account are often not feasible for meta-analyses which synthesize summarized results in published (or unpublished) references, as these methods require information usually not reported. The paper presents methodology which uses the log(-log) survival function difference, (i.e. log(-logS2(t))-log(-logS1(t)), as the contrast index to represent the multiplicative treatment effect on survival in independent trials. This article shows by the second mean value theorem for integrals that this contrast index, denoted as θ, is interpretable as a weighted average on a natural logarithmic scale of hazard ratios within the interval [0,t] in a trial. When the within-trial proportional hazards assumption is true, θ is the logarithm of the proportionality constant for the common hazard ratio for the interval considered within the trial. In this situation, an important advantage of using θ as a contrast index in the proposed methodology is that the estimation of θ is not affected by length of follow-up time. Other commonly used indices such as the odds ratio, risk ratio and risk differences do not have this invariance property under the proportional hazard model, since their estimation may be affected by length of follow-up time as a technical artefact. Thus, the proposed methodology obviates problems which often occur in survival meta-analysis because trials do not report survival at the same length of follow-up time. Even when the within-trial proportional hazards assumption is not realistic, the proposed methodology has the capability of testing a global null hypothesis of no multiplicative treatment effect on the survival distributions of two groups for all studies. A discussion of weighting schemes for meta-analysis is provided, in particular, a weighting scheme based on effective sample sizes is suggested for the meta-analysis of time-to-event data which involves censoring. A medical example illustrating the methodology is given. A simulation investigation suggested that the methodology performs well in the presence of moderate censoring. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.