Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention
Division of Cancer
Prevention and Control
4770 Buford Hwy NE
Atlanta, GA 30341
TTY: (888) 232-6348
United States Cancer Statistics (USCS)
Technical Notes: Statistical Methods: Confidence Intervals
Confidence intervals reflect the range of variation in the estimation of the cancer rates. The width of a confidence interval depends on the amount of variability in the data. Sources of variability include the underlying occurrence of cancer as well as uncertainty about when cancer is detected and diagnosed, when a death from cancer occurs, and when the data about the cancer are sent to the registry or the state health department.
In any given year, when large numbers of a particular cancer are diagnosed or when large numbers of cancer patients die, the effects of random variability are small compared with the large numbers, and the confidence interval will be narrow. With rare cancers, however, the rates are small and the chance occurrence of more or fewer cases or deaths in a given year can markedly affect those rates. Under these circumstances, the confidence interval will be wide to indicate uncertainty or instability in the cancer rate.
The Poisson Process
Parameters are estimated for the underlying disease process. For this report, we estimated a single parameter to represent the incidence rate and its variability. Of note, the Poisson model is capable of estimating separate parameters that represent contributions to the rate from various population risk factors, the effects of cancer control interventions, and other attributes of the population risk profile in any particular year.
Modified Gamma Intervals
Considerations When Comparing Rates
Another consideration when comparing differences between rates is their public health importance. For some rates presented on this Web site, numerators and denominators are large and standard errors are therefore small, resulting in statistically significant differences that may be so small as to lack importance for decisions related to population-based public health programs.
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Page last reviewed: December 18, 2012
Page last updated: December 2, 2008
Content source: Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion