A Bayesian model for cluster detection

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Abstract

The detection of areas in which the risk of a particular disease is significantly elevated, leading to an excess of cases, is an important enterprise in spatial epidemiology. Various frequentist approaches have been suggested for the detection of “clusters” within a hypothesis testing framework. Unfortunately, these suffer from a number of drawbacks including the difficulty in specifying a p-value threshold at which to call significance, the inherent multiplicity problem, and the possibility of multiple clusters. In this paper, we suggest a Bayesian approach to detecting “areas of clustering” in which the study region is partitioned into, possibly multiple, “zones” within which the risk is either at a null, or non-null, level. Computation is carried out using Markov chain Monte Carlo, tuned to the model that we develop. The method is applied to leukemia data in upstate New York.

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