The accelerated failure time (AFT) model has been suggested as an alternative to the Cox proportional hazards model. However, a parametric AFT model requires the specification of an appropriate distribution for the event time, which is often difficult to identify in real-life studies and may limit applications. A semiparametric AFT model was developed by Komárek et al based on smoothed error distribution that does not require such specification. In this article, we develop a spline-based AFT model that also does not require specification of the parametric family of event time distribution. The baseline hazard function is modeled by regression B-splines, allowing for the estimation of a variety of smooth and flexible shapes. In comprehensive simulations, we validate the performance of our approach and compare with the results from parametric AFT models and the approach of Komárek. Both the proposed spline-based AFT model and the approach of Komárek provided unbiased estimates of covariate effects and survival curves for a variety of scenarios in which the event time followed different distributions, including both simple and complex cases. Spline-based estimates of the baseline hazard showed also a satisfactory numerical stability. As expected, the baseline hazard and survival probabilities estimated by the misspecified parametric AFT models deviated from the truth. We illustrated the application of the proposed model in a study of colon cancer.
Keywords: accelerated failure time model; model misspecification; simulations; spline-based method; survival analysis.
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