A Simulation Study to Compare the Predictive Performance of Survival Neural Networks with Cox Models for Clinical Trial Data

Georgios Kantidakis, Elia Biganzoli, Hein Putter, Marta Fiocco

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Background. Studies focusing on prediction models are widespread in medicine. There is a trend in applying machine learning (ML) by medical researchers and clinicians. Over the years, multiple ML algorithms have been adapted to censored data. However, the choice of methodology should be motivated by the real-life data and their complexity. Here, the predictive performance of ML techniques is compared with statistical models in a simple clinical setting (small/moderate sample size and small number of predictors) with Monte-Carlo simulations. Methods. Synthetic data (250 or 1000 patients) were generated that closely resembled 5 prognostic factors preselected based on a European Osteosarcoma Intergroup study (MRC BO06/EORTC 80931). Comparison was performed between 2 partial logistic artificial neural networks (PLANNs) and Cox models for 20, 40, 61, and 80% censoring. Survival times were generated from a log-normal distribution. Models were contrasted in terms of the C-index, Brier score at 0-5 years, integrated Brier score (IBS) at 5 years, and miscalibration at 2 and 5 years (usually neglected). The endpoint of interest was overall survival. Results. PLANNs original/extended were tuned based on the IBS at 5 years and the C-index, achieving a slightly better performance with the IBS. Comparison with Cox models showed that PLANNs can reach similar predictive performance on simulated data for most scenarios with respect to the C-index, Brier score, or IBS. However, Cox models were frequently less miscalibrated. Performance was robust in scenario data where censored patients were removed before 2 years or curtailing at 5 years was performed (on training data). Conclusion. Survival neural networks reached a comparable predictive performance with Cox models but were generally less well calibrated. All in all, researchers should be aware of burdensome aspects of ML techniques such as data preprocessing, tuning of hyperparameters, and computational intensity that render them disadvantageous against conventional regression models in a simple clinical setting.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2160322
JournalComputational and Mathematical Methods in Medicine
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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