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Geostatistical analysis of disease data: visualization and propagation of spatial uncertainty in cancer mortality risk using Poisson kriging and p-field simulation

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Author(s): Goovaerts Pierre

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

Volume: 5;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 7;
Date: 2006;
Original page

ABSTRACT
Abstract Background Smoothing methods have been developed to improve the reliability of risk cancer estimates from sparsely populated geographical entities. Filtering local details of the spatial variation of the risk leads however to the detection of larger clusters of low or high cancer risk while most spatial outliers are filtered out. Static maps of risk estimates and the associated prediction variance also fail to depict the uncertainty attached to the spatial distribution of risk values and does not allow its propagation through local cluster analysis. This paper presents a geostatistical methodology to generate multiple realizations of the spatial distribution of risk values. These maps are then fed into spatial operators, such as in local cluster analysis, allowing one to assess how risk spatial uncertainty translates into uncertainty about the location of spatial clusters and outliers. This novel approach is applied to age-adjusted breast and pancreatic cancer mortality rates recorded for white females in 295 US counties of the Northeast (1970–1994). A public-domain executable with example datasets is provided. Results Geostatistical simulation generates risk maps that are more variable than the smooth risk map estimated by Poisson kriging and reproduce better the spatial pattern captured by the risk semivariogram model. Local cluster analysis of the set of simulated risk maps leads to a clear visualization of the lower reliability of the classification obtained for pancreatic cancer versus breast cancer: only a few counties in the large cluster of low risk detected in West Virginia and Southern Pennsylvania are significant over 90% of all simulations. On the other hand, the cluster of high breast cancer mortality in Niagara county, detected after application of Poisson kriging, appears on 60% of simulated risk maps. Sensitivity analysis shows that 500 realizations are needed to achieve a stable classification for pancreatic cancer, while convergence is reached for less than 300 realizations for breast cancer. Conclusion The approach presented in this paper enables researchers to generate a set of simulated risk maps that are more realistic than a single map of smoothed mortality rates and allow the propagation of cancer risk uncertainty through local cluster analysis. Coupled with visualization and querying capabilities of geographical information systems, animated display of realizations can highlight areas that depart consistently from the general behavior observed across the region, guiding further investigation and control activities.

Tango Rapperswil
Tango Rapperswil

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