Epidemiological research of canine cancers could inform comparative studies of environmental determinants for a number of human cancers. However, such an approach is currently limited because canine cancer data sources are still few in number and often incomplete. Incompleteness is typically due to under-ascertainment of canine cancers. A main reason for this is because dog owners commonly do not seek veterinary care for this diagnosis. Deeper knowledge on under-ascertainment is critical for modeling canine cancer incidence, as an indication of zero incidence might originate from the sole absence of diagnostic examinations within a given sample unit. In the present case study, we investigated effects of such structural zeros on models of canine cancer incidence. In doing so, we contrasted two scenarios for modeling incidence data retrieved from the Swiss Canine Cancer Registry.
The first scenario was based on the complete enumeration of incidence data for all Swiss municipal units. The second scenario was based on a filtered sample that systematically discarded structural zeros in those municipal units where no diagnostic examination had been performed. By means of cross-validation, we assessed and contrasted statistical performance and predictive power of the two modelling scenarios. This analytical step allowed us to demonstrate that structural zeros impact on the generalizability of the model of canine cancer incidence, thus challenging future comparative studies of canine and human cancers. The results of this case study show that increased awareness about the effects of structural zeros is critical to epidemiological research.