Selection Bias Due to Loss to Follow Up in Cohort Studies

Epidemiology. 2016 Jan;27(1):91-7. doi: 10.1097/EDE.0000000000000409.


Selection bias due to loss to follow up represents a threat to the internal validity of estimates derived from cohort studies. Over the past 15 years, stratification-based techniques as well as methods such as inverse probability-of-censoring weighted estimation have been more prominently discussed and offered as a means to correct for selection bias. However, unlike correcting for confounding bias using inverse weighting, uptake of inverse probability-of-censoring weighted estimation as well as competing methods has been limited in the applied epidemiologic literature. To motivate greater use of inverse probability-of-censoring weighted estimation and competing methods, we use causal diagrams to describe the sources of selection bias in cohort studies employing a time-to-event framework when the quantity of interest is an absolute measure (e.g., absolute risk, survival function) or relative effect measure (e.g., risk difference, risk ratio). We highlight that whether a given estimate obtained from standard methods is potentially subject to selection bias depends on the causal diagram and the measure. We first broadly describe inverse probability-of-censoring weighted estimation and then give a simple example to demonstrate in detail how inverse probability-of-censoring weighted estimation mitigates selection bias and describe challenges to estimation. We then modify complex, real-world data from the University of North Carolina Center for AIDS Research HIV clinical cohort study and estimate the absolute and relative change in the occurrence of death with and without inverse probability-of-censoring weighted correction using the modified University of North Carolina data. We provide SAS code to aid with implementation of inverse probability-of-censoring weighted techniques.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cohort Studies*
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • HIV Infections / mortality
  • Humans
  • Lost to Follow-Up*
  • Male
  • North Carolina / epidemiology
  • Probability
  • Selection Bias*