Colorectal Cancer Incidence, Inequalities, and Prevention Priorities in Urban Texas: Surveillance Study With the "surveil" Software Package

JMIR Public Health Surveill. 2022 Aug 16;8(8):e34589. doi: 10.2196/34589.


Background: Monitoring disease incidence rates over time with population surveillance data is fundamental to public health research and practice. Bayesian disease monitoring methods provide advantages over conventional methods including greater flexibility in model specification and the ability to conduct formal inference on model-derived quantities of interest. However, software platforms for Bayesian inference are often inaccessible to nonspecialists.

Objective: To increase the accessibility of Bayesian methods among health surveillance researchers, we introduce a Bayesian methodology and open source software package, surveil, for time-series modeling of disease incidence and mortality. Given case count and population-at-risk data, the software enables health researchers to draw inferences about underlying risk and derivative quantities including age-standardized rates, annual and cumulative percent change, and measures of inequality.

Methods: We specify a Poisson likelihood for case counts and model trends in log-risk using the first-difference (random-walk) prior. Models in the surveil R package were built using the Stan modeling language. We demonstrate the methodology and software by analyzing age-standardized colorectal cancer (CRC) incidence rates by race and ethnicity for non-Latino Black (Black), non-Latino White (White), and Hispanic/Latino (of any race) adults aged 50-79 years in Texas's 4 largest metropolitan statistical areas between 1999 and 2018.

Results: Our analysis revealed a cumulative decline of 31% (95% CI -37% to -25%) in CRC risk among Black adults, 17% (95% CI -23% to -11%) for Latino adults, and 35% (95% CI -38% to -31%) for White adults from 1999 to 2018. None of the 3 observed groups experienced significant incidence reduction in the final 4 years of the study (2015-2018). The Black-White rate difference (per 100,000) was 44 (95% CI 30-57) in 1999 and 35 (95% CI 28-43) in 2018. Cumulatively, the Black-White gap accounts for 3983 CRC cases (95% CI 3746-4219) or 31% (95% CI 29%-32%) of total CRC incidence among Black adults in this period.

Conclusions: Stalled progress on CRC prevention and excess CRC risk among Black residents warrant special attention as cancer prevention and control priorities in urban Texas. Our methodology and software can help the public and health agencies monitor health inequalities and evaluate progress toward disease prevention goals. Advantages of the methodology over current common practice include the following: (1) the absence of piecewise linearity constraints on the model space, and (2) formal inference can be undertaken on any model-derived quantities of interest using Bayesian methods.

Keywords: Bayesian analysis; cancer prevention; colorectal cancer; health equity; open source software; public health monitoring; time-series analysis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bayes Theorem
  • Colorectal Neoplasms* / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Software
  • Texas / epidemiology