Potential misinterpretations caused by collapsing upper categories of comorbidity indices: an illustration from a cohort of older breast cancer survivors Journal Article uri icon
  • BACKGROUND: Comorbidity indices summarize complex medical histories into concise ordinal scales, facilitating stratification and regression in epidemiologic analyses. Low subject prevalence in the highest strata of a comorbidity index often prompts combination of upper categories into a single stratum ('collapsing'). OBJECTIVE: We use data from a breast cancer cohort to illustrate potential inferential errors resulting from collapsing a comorbidity index. METHODS: Starting from a full index (0, 1, 2, 3, and >/=4 comorbidities), we sequentially collapsed upper categories to yield three collapsed categorizations. The full and collapsed categorizations were applied to analyses of (1) the association between comorbidity and all-cause mortality, wherein comorbidity was the exposure; (2) the association between older age and all-cause mortality, wherein comorbidity was a candidate confounder or effect modifier. RESULTS: COLLAPSING THE INDEX ATTENUATED THE ASSOCIATION BETWEEN COMORBIDITY AND MORTALITY (RISK RATIO, FULL VERSUS DICHOTOMIZED CATEGORIZATION: 4.6 vs 2.1), reduced the apparent magnitude of confounding by comorbidity of the age/mortality association (relative risk due to confounding, full versus dichotomized categorization: 1.14 vs 1.09), and obscured modification of the association between age and mortality on both the absolute and relative scales. CONCLUSIONS: Collapsing categories of a comorbidity index can alter inferences concerning comorbidity as an exposure, confounder and effect modifier.

  • Link to Article
    publication date
  • 2009
  • published in
  • Breast Cancer
  • Comorbidity
  • Epidemiology
  • Models
  • Research Methods
  • Survivors
  • Additional Document Info
  • 1