Estimating the cure fraction in population-based cancer studies by using finite mixture models


P. C. Lambert, Centre for Biostatistics and Genetic Epidemiology, Department of Health Sciences, Adrian Building, University of Leicester, University Road, Leicester, LE1 7RH, UK.


Summary.  The cure fraction (the proportion of patients who are cured of disease) is of interest to both patients and clinicians and is a useful measure to monitor trends in survival of curable disease. The paper extends the non-mixture and mixture cure fraction models to estimate the proportion cured of disease in population-based cancer studies by incorporating a finite mixture of two Weibull distributions to provide more flexibility in the shape of the estimated relative survival or excess mortality functions. The methods are illustrated by using public use data from England and Wales on survival following diagnosis of cancer of the colon where interest lies in differences between age and deprivation groups. We show that the finite mixture approach leads to improved model fit and estimates of the cure fraction that are closer to the empirical estimates. This is particularly so in the oldest age group where the cure fraction is notably lower. The cure fraction is broadly similar in each deprivation group, but the median survival of the ‘uncured’ is lower in the more deprived groups. The finite mixture approach overcomes some of the limitations of the more simplistic cure models and has the potential to model the complex excess hazard functions that are seen in real data.