PURPOSE: Fact of death is not always available on data sets used for pharmacoepidemiological research. Proxies may be an appropriate substitute in the absence of death data. The purposes of this study were to validate a proxy for death in adult cancer patients and to assess its performance when estimating survival in two cohorts of cancer patients. METHODS: We evaluated 30-, 60-, 90- and 180-day proxies overall and by cancer type using data from 12 394 Australian veterans with lung, colorectal, breast or prostate cancer. The proxy indicated death if the difference between the last dispensing record and the end of the observational period exceeded the proxy cutoff. We then compared actual survival to 90-day proxy estimates in a subset of 4090 veterans with 'full entitlements' for pharmaceutical items and in 3704 Australian women receiving trastuzumab for HER2+ metastatic breast cancer. RESULTS: The 90-day proxy was optimal with an overall sensitivity of 99.3% (95%CI: 98.4-99.7) and a specificity of 97.6% (95%CI: 91.8-99.4). These measures remained high when evaluated by cancer type and spread of disease. The application of the proxy using the most conservative date of death estimate (date of last dispensing) generally underestimated survival, with estimates up to 3 months shorter than survival based on fact of death. CONCLUSIONS: A 90-day death proxy is a robust substitute to identify death in a chronic population when fact of death is not available. The proxy is likely to be valid across a range of chronic diseases as it relies on the presence of 'regular' dispensing records for individual patients. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.