A scoping review of statistical methods in studies of biomarker-related treatment heterogeneity for breast cancer.



Of 164 studies identified by the query, 31 were eligible. Over 70 different biomarkers were evaluated. Twenty-two studies (71%) evaluated multiplicative interaction between treatment and biomarker. Twenty-eight studies (90%) evaluated either the treatment effect in biomarker subgroups or the biomarker effect in treatment subgroups. Eight studies (26%) reported results for one predictive biomarker analysis, while the majority performed multiple evaluations, either for several biomarkers, outcomes and/or subpopulations. Twenty-one studies (68%) claimed to have found significant differences in treatment effects by biomarker level. Fourteen studies (45%) mentioned that the study was not designed to evaluate treatment effect heterogeneity.


A PubMed search identified clinical studies among women with breast cancer comparing at least two different treatment groups, one of which chemotherapy or endocrine treatment, by levels of at least one biomarker. Studies presenting original data published in 2019 in one of 15 selected journals were eligible for this review. Clinical and statistical characteristics were extracted by three reviewers and a selection of characteristics for each study was reported.


Many scientific papers are published each year and substantial resources are spent to develop biomarker-based tests for precision oncology. However, only a handful of tests is currently used in daily clinical practice, since development is challenging. In this situation, the application of adequate statistical methods is essential, but little is known about the scope of methods used.


Most studies evaluated treatment heterogeneity via separate analyses of biomarker-specific treatment effects and/or multiplicative interaction analysis. There is a need for the application of more efficient statistical methods to evaluate treatment heterogeneity in clinical studies.

More about this publication

BMC medical research methodology
  • Volume 23
  • Issue nr. 1
  • Pages 154
  • Publication date 29-06-2023

This site uses cookies

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.