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Small area estimation of incidence of cancer around a known source of exposure with fine resolution data


OBJECTIVES To describe the small area system developed in Finland. To illustrate the use of the system with analyses of incidence of lung cancer around an asbestos mine. To compare the performance of different spatial statistical models when applied to sparse data.

METHODS In the small area system, cancer and population data are available by sex, age, and socioeconomic status in adjacent “pixels”, squares of size 0.5 km × 0.5 km. The study area was partitioned into sub-areas based on estimated exposure. The original data at the pixel level were used in a spatial random field model. For comparison, standardised incidence ratios were estimated, and full bayesian and empirical bayesian models were fitted to aggregated data. Incidence of lung cancer around a former asbestos mine was used as an illustration.

RESULTS The spatial random field model, which has been used in former small area studies, did not converge with present fine resolution data. The number of neighbouring pixels used in smoothing had to be enlarged, and informative distributions for hyperparameters were used to stabilise the unobserved random field. The ordered spatial random field model gave lower estimates than the Poisson model. When one of the three effects of area were fixed, the model gave similar estimates with a narrower interval than the Poisson model.

CONCLUSIONS The use of fine resolution data and socioeconomic status as a means of controlling for confounding related to lifestyle is useful when estimating risk of cancer around point sources. However, better statistical methods are needed for spatial modelling of fine resolution data.

  • disease mapping
  • point source
  • spatial random field model

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