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The assessment of prognostic markers is key to the improvement of therapeutic strategies for cancer patients. Some promising markers may fail to be applied in clinical practice, or some useless markers may be applied, because of misleading results ensuing from inadequate planning of the study and/or from an oversimplified statistical analysis. This commentary illustrates and discusses the main issues involved in planning an effective clinical study and the subsequent statistical analysis for the prognostic evaluation of a cancer marker. Another aim is to extend the most applied statistical models (ie, those using Kaplan-Meier and Cox) to enable the choice of the best-suited methods for study endpoints. Specifically, for tumor-centered endpoints like tumor recurrence, the issue of competing risks is highlighted. For markers measured on a continuous numerical scale, a loss of relevant prognostic information may occur by setting arbitrary cutoffs; thus, the methods to analyze the original scale are explained. Furthermore, because the P-value is not a sufficient criterion to assess the usefulness of a marker in clinical practice, measures for evaluating the ability of the marker to discriminate between "good" and "bad" prognoses are illustrated. Several tumor markers are considered both in human and veterinary medicine. Given the similarity between markers for human breast cancer and canine mammary cancer, an application of the statistical methods discussed within the article to a public dataset from human breast cancer patients is shown.


Patrizia Boracchi, Paola Roccabianca, Giancarlo Avallone, Giuseppe Marano. Kaplan-Meier Curves, Cox Model, and P-Values Are Not Enough for the Prognostic Evaluation of Tumor Markers: Statistical Suggestions for a More Comprehensive Approach. Veterinary pathology. 2021 Sep;58(5):795-808

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PMID: 33977800

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