Utility of inverse probability weighting in molecular pathological epidemiology

Li Liu, Daniel Nevo, Reiko Nishihara, Yin Cao, Mingyang Song, Tyler S. Twombly, Andrew T. Chan, Edward L. Giovannucci, Tyler J. VanderWeele, Molin Wang, Shuji Ogino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


As one of causal inference methodologies, the inverse probability weighting (IPW) method has been utilized to address confounding and account for missing data when subjects with missing data cannot be included in a primary analysis. The transdisciplinary field of molecular pathological epidemiology (MPE) integrates molecular pathological and epidemiological methods, and takes advantages of improved understanding of pathogenesis to generate stronger biological evidence of causality and optimize strategies for precision medicine and prevention. Disease subtyping based on biomarker analysis of biospecimens is essential in MPE research. However, there are nearly always cases that lack subtype information due to the unavailability or insufficiency of biospecimens. To address this missing subtype data issue, we incorporated inverse probability weights into Cox proportional cause-specific hazards regression. The weight was inverse of the probability of biomarker data availability estimated based on a model for biomarker data availability status. The strategy was illustrated in two example studies; each assessed alcohol intake or family history of colorectal cancer in relation to the risk of developing colorectal carcinoma subtypes classified by tumor microsatellite instability (MSI) status, using a prospective cohort study, the Nurses’ Health Study. Logistic regression was used to estimate the probability of MSI data availability for each cancer case with covariates of clinical features and family history of colorectal cancer. This application of IPW can reduce selection bias caused by nonrandom variation in biospecimen data availability. The integration of causal inference methods into the MPE approach will likely have substantial potentials to advance the field of epidemiology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)381-392
Number of pages12
JournalEuropean Journal of Epidemiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2018


  • Etiologic heterogeneity
  • Marginal structural model
  • Missing at random
  • Neoplasm
  • Selection bias
  • Unique disease principle


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