Study retention and attrition in a longitudinal cohort study including patient-reported outcomes, fieldwork and biobank samples: results of the Netherlands quality of life and Biomedical cohort study (NET-QUBIC) among 739 head and neck cancer patients and 262 informal caregivers

Femke Jansen, Ruud H. Brakenhoff, Rob J. Baatenburg de Jong, Johannes A. Langendijk, C. René Leemans, Robert P. Takes, Chris H. J. Terhaard, Jan H. Smit, Irma M. Verdonck-de Leeuw

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Background: Longitudinal observational cohort studies in cancer patients are important to move research and clinical practice forward. Continued study participation (study retention) is of importance to maintain the statistical power of research and facilitate representativeness of study findings. This study aimed to investigate study retention and attrition (drop-out) and its associated sociodemographic and clinical factors among head and neck cancer (HNC) patients and informal caregivers included in the Netherlands Quality of Life and Biomedical Cohort Study (NET-QUBIC). Methods: NET-QUBIC is a longitudinal cohort study among 739 HNC patients and 262 informal caregivers with collection of patient-reported outcome measures (PROMs), fieldwork data (interview, objective tests and medical examination) and biobank materials. Study retention and attrition was described from baseline (before treatment) up to 2-years follow-up (after treatment). Sociodemographic and clinical characteristics associated with retention in NET-QUBIC components at baseline (PROMs, fieldwork and biobank samples) and retention in general (participation in at least one component) were investigated using Chi-square, Fisher exact or independent t-tests (p< 0.05). Results: Study retention at 2-years follow-up was 80% among patients alive (66% among all patients) and 70% among caregivers of patients who were alive and participating (52% among all caregivers). Attrition was most often caused by mortality, and logistic, physical, or psychological-related reasons. Tumor stage I/II, better physical performance and better (lower) comorbidity score were associated with participation in the PROMs component among patients. No factors associated with participation in the fieldwork component (patients), overall sample collection (patients and caregivers) or PROMs component (caregivers) were identified. A better performance and comorbidity score (among patients) and higher age (among caregivers) were associated with study retention at 2-years follow-up. Conclusions: Retention rates were high at two years follow-up (i.e. 80% among HNC patients alive and 70% among informal caregivers with an active patient). Nevertheless, some selection was shown in terms of tumor stage, physical performance, comorbidity and age, which might limit representativeness of NET-QUBIC data and samples. To facilitate representativeness of study findings future cohort studies might benefit from oversampling specific subgroups, such as patients with poor clinical outcomes or higher comorbidity and younger caregivers.

Original languageEnglish
Article number27
JournalBMC medical research methodology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2022


  • Attrition
  • Cohort study
  • Head and neck cancer
  • Representativeness
  • Retention

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