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Accounting for regional background and population size in the detection of spatial clusters and outliers using geostatistical filtering and spatial neutral models: the case of lung cancer in Long Island, New York

Author(s): Goovaerts Pierre | Jacquez Geoffrey

Journal: International Journal of Health Geographics
ISSN 1476-072X

Volume: 3;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 14;
Date: 2004;
Original page

Abstract Background Complete Spatial Randomness (CSR) is the null hypothesis employed by many statistical tests for spatial pattern, such as local cluster or boundary analysis. CSR is however not a relevant null hypothesis for highly complex and organized systems such as those encountered in the environmental and health sciences in which underlying spatial pattern is present. This paper presents a geostatistical approach to filter the noise caused by spatially varying population size and to generate spatially correlated neutral models that account for regional background obtained by geostatistical smoothing of observed mortality rates. These neutral models were used in conjunction with the local Moran statistics to identify spatial clusters and outliers in the geographical distribution of male and female lung cancer in Nassau, Queens, and Suffolk counties, New York, USA. Results We developed a typology of neutral models that progressively relaxes the assumptions of null hypotheses, allowing for the presence of spatial autocorrelation, non-uniform risk, and incorporation of spatially heterogeneous population sizes. Incorporation of spatial autocorrelation led to fewer significant ZIP codes than found in previous studies, confirming earlier claims that CSR can lead to over-identification of the number of significant spatial clusters or outliers. Accounting for population size through geostatistical filtering increased the size of clusters while removing most of the spatial outliers. Integration of regional background into the neutral models yielded substantially different spatial clusters and outliers, leading to the identification of ZIP codes where SMR values significantly depart from their regional background. Conclusion The approach presented in this paper enables researchers to assess geographic relationships using appropriate null hypotheses that account for the background variation extant in real-world systems. In particular, this new methodology allows one to identify geographic pattern above and beyond background variation. The implementation of this approach in spatial statistical software will facilitate the detection of spatial disparities in mortality rates, establishing the rationale for targeted cancer control interventions, including consideration of health services needs, and resource allocation for screening and diagnostic testing. It will allow researchers to systematically evaluate how sensitive their results are to assumptions implicit under alternative null hypotheses.

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