Estimation of separable direct and indirect effects in continuous time

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Many research questions involve time-to-event outcomes that can be prevented from occurring due to competing events. In these settings, we must be careful about the causal interpretation of classical statistical estimands. In particular, estimands on the hazard scale, such as ratios of cause-specific or subdistribution hazards, are fundamentally hard to interpret causally. Estimands on the risk scale, such as contrasts of cumulative incidence functions, do have a clear causal interpretation, but they only capture the total effect of the treatment on the event of interest; that is, effects both through and outside of the competing event. To disentangle causal treatment effects on the event of interest and competing events, the separable direct and indirect effects were recently introduced. Here we provide new results on the estimation of direct and indirect separable effects in continuous time. In particular, we derive the nonparametric influence function in continuous time and use it to construct an estimator that has certain robustness properties. We also propose a simple estimator based on semiparametric models for the two cause-specific hazard functions. We describe the asymptotic properties of these estimators and present results from simulation studies, suggesting that the estimators behave satisfactorily in finite samples. Finally, we reanalyze the prostate cancer trial from Stensrud et al. (2020)
Original languageEnglish
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)127-139
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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