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Open Access Highly Accessed Research

A comparison of spatial clustering and cluster detection techniques for childhood leukemia incidence in Ohio, 1996 – 2003

David C Wheeler

Author Affiliations

Department of Biostatistics, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA

International Journal of Health Geographics 2007, 6:13  doi:10.1186/1476-072X-6-13

Published: 27 March 2007

Abstract

Background

Spatial cluster detection is an important tool in cancer surveillance to identify areas of elevated risk and to generate hypotheses about cancer etiology. There are many cluster detection methods used in spatial epidemiology to investigate suspicious groupings of cancer occurrences in regional count data and case-control data, where controls are sampled from the at-risk population. Numerous studies in the literature have focused on childhood leukemia because of its relatively large incidence among children compared with other malignant diseases and substantial public concern over elevated leukemia incidence. The main focus of this paper is an analysis of the spatial distribution of leukemia incidence among children from 0 to 14 years of age in Ohio from 1996–2003 using individual case data from the Ohio Cancer Incidence Surveillance System (OCISS).

Specifically, we explore whether there is statistically significant global clustering and if there are statistically significant local clusters of individual leukemia cases in Ohio using numerous published methods of spatial cluster detection, including spatial point process summary methods, a nearest neighbor method, and a local rate scanning method. We use the K function, Cuzick and Edward's method, and the kernel intensity function to test for significant global clustering and the kernel intensity function and Kulldorff's spatial scan statistic in SaTScan to test for significant local clusters.

Results

We found some evidence, although inconclusive, of significant local clusters in childhood leukemia in Ohio, but no significant overall clustering. The findings from the local cluster detection analyses are not consistent for the different cluster detection techniques, where the spatial scan method in SaTScan does not find statistically significant local clusters, while the kernel intensity function method suggests statistically significant clusters in areas of central, southern, and eastern Ohio. The findings are consistent for the different tests of global clustering, where no significant clustering is demonstrated with any of the techniques when all age cases are considered together.

Conclusion

This comparative study for childhood leukemia clustering and clusters in Ohio revealed several research issues in practical spatial cluster detection. Among them, flexibility in cluster shape detection should be an issue for consideration.