In a semi-competing risks model in which a terminal event censors a non-terminal event but not vice versa, the conventional method can predict clinical outcomes by maximizing likelihood estimation. However, this method can produce unreliable or biased estimators when the number of events in the datasets is small. Specifically, parameter estimates may converge to infinity, or their standard errors can be very large. Moreover, terminal and non-terminal event times may be correlated, which can account for the frailty term. Here, we adapt the penalized likelihood with Firth’s correction method for gamma frailty models with semi-competing risks data to reduce the bias caused by rare events. The proposed method is evaluated in terms of relative bias, mean squared error, standard error, and standard deviation compared to the conventional methods through simulation studies. The results of the proposed method are stable and robust even when data contain only a few events with the misspecification of the baseline hazard function. We also illustrate a real example with a multi-centre, patient-based cohort study to identify risk factors for chronic kidney disease progression or adverse clinical outcomes. This study will provide a better understanding of semi-competing risk data in which the number of specific diseases or events of interest is rare.
Bibliographical notePublisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.
- Cohort study
- Firth’s correction
- Penalized likelihood
- Rare event
- Semi-competing risks