A flexible matching strategy for matched nested case-control studies

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Annals of epidemiology


PURPOSE: Individual matching in case-control studies improves statistical efficiency over random selection of controls but can lead to selection bias if cases are excluded due to the lack of appropriate controls or residual confounding with less strict matching criteria. We introduce flex matching, an algorithm using multiple rounds of control selection with successively relaxed matching criteria to select controls for cases.

METHODS: We simulated exposure-disease relationships in multiple cohort data sets with a range of confounding scenarios and conducted 16,800,000 nested case-control studies, comparing random selection of controls, strict matching, and flex matching. We computed average bias and statistical efficiency in estimates of exposure-disease relationships under each matching strategy.

RESULTS: On average, flex matching produced the least biased estimates of exposure-disease associations with the smallest standard errors. Strict matching algorithms that excluded cases for whom matched controls could not be identified produced biased estimates with larger standard errors. Estimates from studies with random assignment of controls were relatively unbiased, but the standard errors were larger than from studies using flex matching.

CONCLUSIONS: Flex matching should be considered for case-control designs, especially for biomarker studies where matching on technical artifacts is necessary and maximizing efficiency is a priority.

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ePub ahead of print