Two-stage estimation to adjust for treatment switching in randomised trials: A simulation study investigating the use of inverse probability weighting instead of re-censoring
Latimer NR, Abrams KR, Siebert U
Treatment switching is common in randomised trials of oncology treatments, with control group patients switching onto the experimental treatment during follow-up. This distorts an intention-to-treat comparison of the treatments under investigation. Two-stage estimation (TSE) can be used to estimate counterfactual survival times for patients who switch treatments – that is, survival times that would have been observed in the absence of switching. However, when switchers do not die during the study, counterfactual censoring times are estimated, inducing informative censoring. Re-censoring is usually applied alongside TSE to resolve this problem, but results in lost longer-term information – a major concern if the objective is to estimate long-term treatment effects, as is usually the case in health technology assessment. Inverse probability of censoring weights (IPCW) represents an alternative technique for addressing informative censoring but has not before been combined with TSE. We aim to determine whether combining TSE with IPCW (TSEipcw) represents a valid alternative to re-censoring.
We conducted a simulation study to compare TSEipcw to TSE with and without re-censoring. We simulated 48 scenarios where control group patients could switch onto the experimental treatment, with switching affected by prognosis. We investigated various switching proportions, treatment effects, survival function shapes, disease severities and switcher prognoses. We assessed the alternative TSE applications according to their estimation of control group restricted mean survival (RMST) that would have been observed in the absence of switching up to the end of trial follow-up.
TSEipcw performed well when its weights had a low coefficient of variation, but performed poorly when the coefficient of variation was high. Re-censored analyses usually under-estimated control group RMST, whereas non-re-censored analyses usually produced over-estimates, with bias more serious when the treatment effect was high. In scenarios where TSEipcw performed well, it produced low bias that was often between the two extremes associated with the re-censoring and non-recensoring options.
Treatment switching adjustment analyses using TSE should be conducted with re-censoring, without re-censoring, and with IPCW to explore the sensitivity in results to these application options. This should allow analysts and decision-makers to better interpret the results of adjustment analyses.