An overview of real-world data sources for oncology and considerations for research

CA Cancer J Clin. 2022 May;72(3):287-300. doi: 10.3322/caac.21714. Epub 2021 Dec 29.


Generating evidence on the use, effectiveness, and safety of new cancer therapies is a priority for researchers, health care providers, payers, and regulators given the rapid pace of change in cancer diagnosis and treatments. The use of real-world data (RWD) is integral to understanding the utilization patterns and outcomes of these new treatments among patients with cancer who are treated in clinical practice and community settings. An initial step in the use of RWD is careful study design to assess the suitability of an RWD source. This pivotal process can be guided by using a conceptual model that encourages predesign conceptualization. The primary types of RWD included are electronic health records, administrative claims data, cancer registries, and specialty data providers and networks. Careful consideration of each data type is necessary because they are collected for a specific purpose, capturing a set of data elements within a certain population for that purpose, and they vary by population coverage and longitudinality. In this review, the authors provide a high-level assessment of the strengths and limitations of each data category to inform data source selection appropriate to the study question. Overall, the development and accessibility of RWD sources for cancer research are rapidly increasing, and the use of these data requires careful consideration of composition and utility to assess important questions in understanding the use and effectiveness of new therapies.

Keywords: cancer registries; data; oncology; real-world data; research methods.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Electronic Health Records
  • Humans
  • Information Storage and Retrieval*
  • Medical Oncology*
  • Registries
  • Research Design