Comparing current and emerging practice models for the extrapolation of survival data: a simulation study and case-study

BMC Med Res Methodol. 2021 Nov 27;21(1):263. doi: 10.1186/s12874-021-01460-1.


Background: Estimates of future survival can be a key evidence source when deciding if a medical treatment should be funded. Current practice is to use standard parametric models for generating extrapolations. Several emerging, more flexible, survival models are available which can provide improved within-sample fit. This study aimed to assess if these emerging practice models also provided improved extrapolations.

Methods: Both a simulation study and a case-study were used to assess the goodness of fit of five classes of survival model. These were: current practice models, Royston Parmar models (RPMs), Fractional polynomials (FPs), Generalised additive models (GAMs), and Dynamic survival models (DSMs). The simulation study used a mixture-Weibull model as the data-generating mechanism with varying lengths of follow-up and sample sizes. The case-study was long-term follow-up of a prostate cancer trial. For both studies, models were fit to an early data-cut of the data, and extrapolations compared to the known long-term follow-up.

Results: The emerging practice models provided better within-sample fit than current practice models. For data-rich simulation scenarios (large sample sizes or long follow-up), the GAMs and DSMs provided improved extrapolations compared with current practice. Extrapolations from FPs were always very poor whilst those from RPMs were similar to current practice. With short follow-up all the models struggled to provide useful extrapolations. In the case-study all the models provided very similar estimates, but extrapolations were all poor as no model was able to capture a turning-point during the extrapolated period.

Conclusions: Good within-sample fit does not guarantee good extrapolation performance. Both GAMs and DSMs may be considered as candidate extrapolation models in addition to current practice. Further research into when these flexible models are most useful, and the role of external evidence to improve extrapolations is required.

Keywords: Extrapolation; Forecasting; Survival analysis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Computer Simulation
  • Humans
  • Sample Size
  • Survival Analysis*