Comparison of tests for spatial heterogeneity on data with global clustering patterns and outliers

Int J Health Geogr. 2009 Oct 12;8:55. doi: 10.1186/1476-072X-8-55.


Background: The ability to evaluate geographic heterogeneity of cancer incidence and mortality is important in cancer surveillance. Many statistical methods for evaluating global clustering and local cluster patterns are developed and have been examined by many simulation studies. However, the performance of these methods on two extreme cases (global clustering evaluation and local anomaly (outlier) detection) has not been thoroughly investigated.

Methods: We compare methods for global clustering evaluation including Tango's Index, Moran's I, and Oden's I*(pop); and cluster detection methods such as local Moran's I and SaTScan elliptic version on simulated count data that mimic global clustering patterns and outliers for cancer cases in the continental United States. We examine the power and precision of the selected methods in the purely spatial analysis. We illustrate Tango's MEET and SaTScan elliptic version on a 1987-2004 HIV and a 1950-1969 lung cancer mortality data in the United States.

Results: For simulated data with outlier patterns, Tango's MEET, Moran's I and I*(pop) had powers less than 0.2, and SaTScan had powers around 0.97. For simulated data with global clustering patterns, Tango's MEET and I*(pop) (with 50% of total population as the maximum search window) had powers close to 1. SaTScan had powers around 0.7-0.8 and Moran's I has powers around 0.2-0.3. In the real data example, Tango's MEET indicated the existence of global clustering patterns in both the HIV and lung cancer mortality data. SaTScan found a large cluster for HIV mortality rates, which is consistent with the finding from Tango's MEET. SaTScan also found clusters and outliers in the lung cancer mortality data.

Conclusion: SaTScan elliptic version is more efficient for outlier detection compared with the other methods evaluated in this article. Tango's MEET and Oden's I*(pop) perform best in global clustering scenarios among the selected methods. The use of SaTScan for data with global clustering patterns should be used with caution since SatScan may reveal an incorrect spatial pattern even though it has enough power to reject a null hypothesis of homogeneous relative risk. Tango's method should be used for global clustering evaluation instead of SaTScan.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / mortality*
  • Cluster Analysis*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Female
  • Geographic Information Systems*
  • Global Health*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Models, Statistical*
  • Risk Factors
  • United States / epidemiology