What do case-control studies estimate? Survey of methods and assumptions in published case-control research

Knol, Mirjam J; Vandenbroucke, Jan P; Scott, Pippa; Egger, Matthias (2008). What do case-control studies estimate? Survey of methods and assumptions in published case-control research. American journal of epidemiology, 168(9), pp. 1073-81. Cary, N.C.: Oxford University Press 10.1093/aje/kwn217

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To evaluate strategies used to select cases and controls and how reported odds ratios are interpreted, the authors examined 150 case-control studies published in leading general medicine, epidemiology, and clinical specialist journals from 2001 to 2007. Most of the studies (125/150; 83%) were based on incident cases; among these, the source population was mostly dynamic (102/125; 82%). A minority (23/125; 18%) sampled from a fixed cohort. Among studies with incident cases, 105 (84%) could interpret the odds ratio as a rate ratio. Fifty-seven (46% of 125) required the source population to be stable for such interpretation, while the remaining 48 (38% of 125) did not need any assumptions because of matching on time or concurrent sampling. Another 17 (14% of 125) studies with incident cases could interpret the odds ratio as a risk ratio, with 16 of them requiring the rare disease assumption for this interpretation. The rare disease assumption was discussed in 4 studies but was not relevant to any of them. No investigators mentioned the need for a stable population. The authors conclude that in current case-control research, a stable exposure distribution is much more frequently needed to interpret odds ratios than the rare disease assumption. At present, investigators conducting case-control studies rarely discuss what their odds ratios estimate.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


04 Faculty of Medicine > Pre-clinic Human Medicine > Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine (ISPM)

UniBE Contributor:

Scott, Pippa and Egger, Matthias






Oxford University Press




Factscience Import

Date Deposited:

04 Oct 2013 15:04

Last Modified:

11 Jun 2015 14:07

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https://boris.unibe.ch/id/eprint/27781 (FactScience: 111501)

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