Causal Mediation Analysis of Survival Outcome with Multiple Mediators

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Abstract

Background:

Mediation analyses have been a popular approach to investigate the effect of an exposure on an outcome through a mediator. Mediation models with multiple mediators have been proposed for continuous and dichotomous outcomes. However, development of multimediator models for survival outcomes is still limited.

Methods:

We present methods for multimediator analyses using three survival models: Aalen additive hazard models, Cox proportional hazard models, and semiparametric probit models. Effects through mediators can be characterized by path-specific effects, for which definitions and identifiability assumptions are provided. We derive closed-form expressions for path-specific effects for the three models, which are intuitively interpreted using a causal diagram.

Results:

Mediation analyses using Cox models under the rare-outcome assumption and Aalen additive hazard models consider effects on log hazard ratio and hazard difference, respectively; analyses using semiparametric probit models consider effects on difference in transformed survival time and survival probability. The three models were applied to a hepatitis study where we investigated effects of hepatitis C on liver cancer incidence mediated through baseline and/or follow-up hepatitis B viral load. The three methods show consistent results on respective effect scales, which suggest an adverse estimated effect of hepatitis C on liver cancer not mediated through hepatitis B, and a protective estimated effect mediated through the baseline (and possibly follow-up) of hepatitis B viral load.

Conclusions:

Causal mediation analyses of survival outcome with multiple mediators are developed for additive hazard and proportional hazard and probit models with utility demonstrated in a hepatitis study.

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