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ABSTRACT : BACKGROUND : We consider how representations of geographic variation in prostate cancer incidence across Southern New England, USA may be affected by selection of study area and/or properties of the statistical analysis.

METHOD : A spatial scan statistic was used to monitor geographic variation among 35,167 incident prostate cancer cases diagnosed in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island from 1994 to 1998, in relation to the 1990 populations of men 20+ years of age living in that region. Results from the combined-states analysis were compared to those from single-states. Impact of scanning procedures set to examine up to 50% or no more than10% of at-risk populations also was evaluated.

RESULTS : With scanning set to 50%, 5 locations in the combined-states analysis were identified with markedly distinct incidence rates. Fewer than expected cases were estimated for nearly all Connecticut, Rhode Island and West Central Massachusetts, whereas census tracts on and around Cape Cod, and areas of Southwestern Connecticut and adjacent to greater Boston were estimated to have yielded more than expected incidence. Results of single-state analyses exhibited several discrepancies from the combined-states analysis. More conservative scanning found many more locations with varying incidence, but discrepancies between the combined- and single-state analysis were fewer. CONCLUSION : It is important to acknowledge the conditional nature of spatial analyses and carefully consider whether a true cluster of events is identified or artifact stemming from selection of study area size and/or scanning properties.


International Journal of Health Geographics 2006, 5:8 (15 February 2006)