Geostatistical Analysis of County-Level Lung Cancer Mortality Rates in the Southeastern United States

Geographical Analysis, Volume 42 Issue 1  (January 2010) p 32-52

Pierre Goovaerts

“The analysis of health data and putative covariates, such as environmental, socioeconomic, demographic, behavioral, or occupational factors, is a promising application for geostatistics. Transferring methods originally developed for the analysis of earth properties to health science, however, presents several methodological and technical challenges. These arise because health data are typically aggregated over irregular spatial supports (e.g., counties) and consist of a numerator and a denominator (i.e., rates). This article provides an overview of geostatistical methods tailored specifically to the characteristics of areal health data, with an application to lung cancer mortality rates in 688 U.S. counties of the southeast (1970–1994). Factorial Poisson kriging can filter short-scale variation and noise, which can be large in sparsely populated counties, to reveal similar regional patterns for male and female cancer mortality that correlate well with proximity to shipyards. Rate uncertainty was transferred through local cluster analysis using stochastic simulation, allowing the computation of the likelihood of clusters of low or high cancer mortality. Accounting for population size and rate uncertainty led to the detection of new clusters of high mortality around Oak Ridge National Laboratory for both sexes, in counties with high concentrations of pig farms and paper mill industries for males (occupational exposure) and in the vicinity of Atlanta for females.”

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