Analyzing spatial aggregation error in statistical models of late-stage cancer risk: A Monte Carlo simulation approach

Lan Luo, Sara McLafferty, Fahui Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: This paper examines the effect of spatial aggregation error on statistical estimates of the association between spatial access to health care and late-stage cancer.Methods: Monte Carlo simulation was used to disaggregate cancer cases for two Illinois counties from zip code to census block in proportion to the age-race composition of the block population. After the disaggregation, a hierarchical logistic model was estimated examining the relationship between late-stage breast cancer and risk factors including travel distance to mammography, at both the zip code and census block levels. Model coefficients were compared between the two levels to assess the impact of spatial aggregation error.Results: We found that spatial aggregation error influences the coefficients of regression-type models at the zip code level, and this impact is highly dependent on the study area. In one study area (Kane County), block-level coefficients were very similar to those estimated on the basis of zip code data; whereas in the other study area (Peoria County), the two sets of coefficients differed substantially raising the possibility of drawing inaccurate inferences about the association between distance to mammography and late-stage cancer risk.Conclusions: Spatial aggregation error can significantly affect the coefficient values and inferences drawn from statistical models of the association between cancer outcomes and spatial and non-spatial variables. Relying on data at the zip code level may lead to inaccurate findings on health risk factors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number51
JournalInternational Journal of Health Geographics
StatePublished - Oct 19 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Computer Science
  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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