Response rates to a mailed survey of a representative sample of cancer patients randomly drawn from the Pennsylvania Cancer Registry: a randomized trial of incentive and length effects

BMC Med Res Methodol. 2010 Jul 14;10:65. doi: 10.1186/1471-2288-10-65.


Background: In recent years, response rates to telephone surveys have declined. Online surveys may miss many older and poorer adults. Mailed surveys may have promise in securing higher response rates.

Methods: In a pilot study, 1200 breast, prostate and colon patients, randomly selected from the Pennsylvania Cancer Registry, were sent surveys in the mail. Incentive amount ($3 vs. $5) and length of the survey (10 pages vs. 16 pages) were randomly assigned.

Results: Overall, there was a high response rate (AAPOR RR4 = 64%). Neither the amount of the incentive, nor the length of the survey affected the response rate significantly. Colon cancer surveys were returned at a significantly lower rate (RR4 = 54%), than breast or prostate surveys (RR4 = 71%, and RR4 = 67%, respectively; p < .001 for both comparisons). There were no significant interactions among cancer type, length of survey and incentive amount in their effects on response likelihood.

Conclusion: Mailed surveys may provide a suitable alternative option for survey-based research with cancer patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude to Health
  • Breast Neoplasms* / psychology
  • Colonic Neoplasms* / psychology
  • Female
  • Health Surveys*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation*
  • Pennsylvania
  • Pilot Projects
  • Postal Service
  • Prostatic Neoplasms* / psychology
  • Registries
  • Sampling Studies
  • Surveys and Questionnaires