Estimating average annual percent change for disease rates without assuming constant change

Biometrics. 2006 Sep;62(3):847-54. doi: 10.1111/j.1541-0420.2006.00528.x.


The annual percent change (APC) is often used to measure trends in disease and mortality rates, and a common estimator of this parameter uses a linear model on the log of the age-standardized rates. Under the assumption of linearity on the log scale, which is equivalent to a constant change assumption, APC can be equivalently defined in three ways as transformations of either (1) the slope of the line that runs through the log of each rate, (2) the ratio of the last rate to the first rate in the series, or (3) the geometric mean of the proportional changes in the rates over the series. When the constant change assumption fails then the first definition cannot be applied as is, while the second and third definitions unambiguously define the same parameter regardless of whether the assumption holds. We call this parameter the percent change annualized (PCA) and propose two new estimators of it. The first, the two-point estimator, uses only the first and last rates, assuming nothing about the rates in between. This estimator requires fewer assumptions and is asymptotically unbiased as the size of the population gets large, but has more variability since it uses no information from the middle rates. The second estimator is an adaptive one and equals the linear model estimator with a high probability when the rates are not significantly different from linear on the log scale, but includes fewer points if there are significant departures from that linearity. For the two-point estimator we can use confidence intervals previously developed for ratios of directly standardized rates. For the adaptive estimator, we show through simulation that the bootstrap confidence intervals give appropriate coverage.

MeSH terms

  • Biometry / methods*
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Models, Statistical
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Population Surveillance / methods*
  • SEER Program / statistics & numerical data
  • Time Factors