Recent methodological developments in causal mediation analysis have addressed several issues regarding multiple mediators. However, these developed methods differ in their definitions of causal parameters, assumptions for identification, and interpretations of causal effects, making it unclear which method ought to be selected when investigating a given causal effect. Thus, in this study, we construct an integrated framework, which unifies all existing methodologies, as a standard for mediation analysis with multiple mediators. To clarify the relationship between existing methods, we propose four strategies for effect decomposition: two-way, partially forward, partially backward, and complete decompositions. This study reveals how the direct and indirect effects of each strategy are explicitly and correctly interpreted as path-specific effects under different causal mediation structures. In the integrated framework, we further verify the utility of the interventional analogues of direct and indirect effects, especially when natural direct and indirect effects cannot be identified or when cross-world exchangeability is invalid. Consequently, this study yields a robustness–specificity trade-off in the choice of strategies. Inverse probability weighting is considered for estimation. The four strategies are further applied to a simulation study for performance evaluation and for analyzing the Risk Evaluation of Viral Load Elevation and Associated Liver Disease/Cancer data set from Taiwan to investigate the causal effect of hepatitis C virus infection on mortality.


Biostatistics | Epidemiology

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