Evaluating risk factor assumptions: A simulation-based approach

Carolyn M. Rutter, Diana L Miglioretti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: Microsimulation models are an important tool for estimating the comparative effectiveness of interventions through prediction of individual-level disease outcomes for a hypothetical population. To estimate the effectiveness of interventions targeted toward high risk groups, the mechanism by which risk factors influence the natural history of disease must be specified. We propose a method for evaluating these risk factor assumptions as part of model-building. Methods. We used simulation studies to examine the impact of risk factor assumptions on the relative rate (RR) of colorectal cancer (CRC) incidence and mortality for a cohort with a risk factor compared to a cohort without the risk factor using an extension of the CRC-SPIN model for colorectal cancer. We also compared the impact of changing age at initiation of screening colonoscopy for different risk mechanisms. Results: Across CRC-specific risk factor mechanisms, the RR of CRC incidence and mortality decreased (towards one) with increasing age. The rate of change in RRs across age groups depended on both the risk factor mechanism and the strength of the risk factor effect. Increased non-CRC mortality attenuated the effect of CRC-specific risk factors on the RR of CRC when both were present. For each risk factor mechanism, earlier initiation of screening resulted in more life years gained, though the magnitude of life years gained varied across risk mechanisms. Conclusions: Simulation studies can provide insight into both the effect of risk factor assumptions on model predictions and the type of data needed to calibrate risk factor models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number55
JournalBMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • colorectal cancer
  • comparative effectiveness
  • microsimulation
  • screening

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics
  • Health Policy


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