Competing risk bias was common in Kaplan-Meier risk estimates published in prominent medical journals

J Clin Epidemiol. 2016 Jan;69:170-3.e8. doi: 10.1016/j.jclinepi.2015.07.006. Epub 2015 Jul 29.


Objective: Risk estimates from Kaplan-Meier curves are well known to medical researchers, reviewers, and editors. In this study, we determined the proportion of Kaplan-Meier analyses published in prominent medical journals that are potentially biased because of competing events ("competing risk bias").

Study design and setting: We randomly selected 100 studies that had at least one Kaplan-Meier analysis and were recently published in prominent medical journals. Susceptibility to competing risk bias was determined by examining the outcome and potential competing events. In susceptible studies, bias was quantified using a previously validated prediction model when the number of outcomes and competing events were given.

Results: Forty-six studies (46%) contained Kaplan-Meier analyses susceptible to competing risk bias. Sixteen studies (34.8%) susceptible to competing risk cited the number of outcomes and competing events; in six of these studies (6/16, 37.5%), the outcome risk from the Kaplan-Meier estimate (relative to the true risk) was biased upward by 10% or more.

Conclusion: Almost half of Kaplan-Meier analyses published in medical journals are susceptible to competing risk bias and may overestimate event risk. This bias was found to be quantitatively important in a third of such studies.

Keywords: Bias; Competing risks; Cumulative incidence function; Kaplan–Meier estimates; Product-limit; Survival analysis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bias*
  • Kaplan-Meier Estimate*
  • Periodicals as Topic*
  • Publishing / statistics & numerical data*
  • Risk*