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Keywords:

  • Competing risks;
  • Copula;
  • Dependent censoring;
  • Self-consistent estimator;
  • Sensitivity analysis;
  • Survival analysis

Summary In clinical studies, when censoring is caused by competing risks or patient withdrawal, there is always a concern about the validity of treatment effect estimates that are obtained under the assumption of independent censoring. Because dependent censoring is nonidentifiable without additional information, the best we can do is a sensitivity analysis to assess the changes of parameter estimates under different assumptions about the association between failure and censoring. This analysis is especially useful when knowledge about such association is available through literature review or expert opinions. In a regression analysis setting, the consequences of falsely assuming independent censoring on parameter estimates are not clear. Neither the direction nor the magnitude of the potential bias can be easily predicted. We provide an approach to do sensitivity analysis for the widely used Cox proportional hazards models. The joint distribution of the failure and censoring times is assumed to be a function of their marginal distributions. This function is called a copula. Under this assumption, we propose an iteration algorithm to estimate the regression parameters and marginal survival functions. Simulation studies show that this algorithm works well. We apply the proposed sensitivity analysis approach to the data from an AIDS clinical trial in which 27% of the patients withdrew due to toxicity or at the request of the patient or investigator.