We develop methodology for a multistage decision problem with flexible number of stages in which the rewards are survival times that are subject to censoring. We present a novel Q-learning algorithm that is adjusted for censored data and allows a flexible number of stages. We provide finite sample bounds on the generalization error of the policy learned by the algorithm, and show that when the optimal Q-function belongs to the approximation space, the expected survival time for policies obtained by the algorithm converges to that of the optimal policy. We simulate a multistage clinical trial with flexible number of stages and apply the proposed censored-Q-learning algorithm to find individualized treatment regimens. The methodology presented in this paper has implications in the design of personalized medicine trials in cancer and in other life-threatening diseases.
"Q-learning with censored data." Ann. Statist. 40 (1) 529 - 560, February 2012. https://doi.org/10.1214/12-AOS968