Network meta-analysis of survival data with fractional polynomials

Pairwise meta-analysis, indirect treatment comparisons and network meta-analysis for aggregate level survival data are often based on the reported hazard ratio, which relies on the proportional hazards assumption. This assumption is implausible when hazard functions intersect, and can have a huge impact on decisions based on comparisons of expected survival, such as cost-effectiveness analysis. As an alternative to network meta-analysis of survival data in which the treatment effect is represented by the constant hazard ratio, a multi-dimensional treatment effect approach is presented. With fractional polynomials, the hazard functions of interventions compared in a randomized controlled trial are modeled, and the difference between the parameters of these fractional polynomials within a trial are synthesized (and indirectly compared) across studies. The proposed models are illustrated with an analysis of survival data in non-small-cell lung cancer. Fixed and random effects first and second order fractional polynomials were evaluated. (Network) meta-analysis of survival data with models where the treatment effect is represented with several parameters using fractional polynomials can be more closely fitted to the available data than meta-analysis based on the constant hazard ratio.