Analysis of survival data with nonproportional hazards: A comparison of propensity-score-weighted methods

Elizabeth A. Handorf, Marc C. Smaldone, Sujana Movva, Nandita Mitra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


One of the most common ways researchers compare cancer survival outcomes across treatments from observational data is using Cox regression. This model depends on its underlying assumption of proportional hazards, but in some real-world cases, such as when comparing different classes of cancer therapies, substantial violations may occur. In this situation, researchers have several alternative methods to choose from, including Cox models with time-varying hazard ratios; parametric accelerated failure time models; Kaplan–Meier curves; and pseudo-observations. It is unclear which of these models are likely to perform best in practice. To fill this gap in the literature, we perform a neutral comparison study of candidate approaches. We examine clinically meaningful outcome measures that can be computed and directly compared across each method, namely, survival probability at time T, median survival, and restricted mean survival. To adjust for differences between treatment groups, we use inverse probability of treatment weighting based on the propensity score. We conduct simulation studies under a range of scenarios, and determine the biases, coverages, and standard errors of the average treatment effects for each method. We then demonstrate the use of these approaches using two published observational studies of survival after cancer treatment. The first examines chemotherapy in sarcoma, which has a late treatment effect (i.e., similar survival initially, but after 2 years the chemotherapy group shows a benefit). The other study is a comparison of surgical techniques for kidney cancer, where survival differences are attenuated over time.

Original languageEnglish
Article number202200099
Pages (from-to)e202200099
JournalBiometrical Journal
Issue number1
Early online dateDec 21 2022
StatePublished - Jan 2024


  • inverse probability of treatment weighting
  • nonproportional hazards
  • observational studies


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