Inference for treatment-specific survival curves using machine learning

by   Ted Westling, et al.

In the absence of data from a randomized trial, researchers often aim to use observational data to draw causal inference about the effect of a treatment on a time-to-event outcome. In this context, interest often focuses on the treatment-specific survival curves; that is, the survival curves were the entire population under study to be assigned to receive the treatment or not. Under certain causal conditions, including that all confounders of the treatment-outcome relationship are observed, the treatment-specific survival can be identified with a covariate-adjusted survival function. Several estimators of this function have been proposed, including estimators based on outcome regression, inverse probability weighting, and doubly robust estimators. In this article, we propose a new cross-fitted doubly-robust estimator that incorporates data-adaptive (e.g. machine learning) estimators of the conditional survival functions. We establish conditions on the nuisance estimators under which our estimator is consistent and asymptotically linear, both pointwise and uniformly in time. We also propose a novel ensemble learner for combining multiple candidate estimators of the conditional survival estimators. Notably, our methods and results accommodate events occurring in discrete or continuous time (or both). We investigate the practical performance of our methods using numerical studies and an application to the effect of a surgical treatment to prevent metastases of parotid carcinoma on mortality.



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