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Cohort study is another type of analytical (observational) study
Cohort study is known by a variety of names: prospective study,
longitudinal study, incidence study, and forward looking study. The most
widely used term. however, is "cohort study"
The distinguishing features of cohort studies are::
a. the cohorts are identified prior to the appearance of the disease
under investigation 

b. the study groups,so defined,are observed over a period of time to
determine the frequency of disease among them 

c. the study proceedsforward from cause to effect. 

Conceptof cohort
In epidemiology,the term "cohort" is defined as a group of people who
share a commoncharacteristic or experience within a defined time period
(e.g., age, occupation, exposure to a drug or vaccine, pregnancy, insured
persons,etc). Thus a group of people born on the same day or in the same
period of time (usually a year) form a "birth cohort". All those born in 1980
form the birth cohort of 1980.Persons exposedto a commondrug, vaccine
or infection within a defined period constitute an "exposure cohort".
Indications for cohort studies
Cohort studies are indicated : (a) when there is good evidence of an
association betweenexposure and disease,as derived from clinical
observations and supported by descriptive and case control studies (b)
when exposure is rare but the incidence of disease high among exposed.
e.g., specialexposure groups like those in industries, exposure to X-rays.
etc (c) when attrition of study population can be minimised e.g., follow-up is
easy, cohort is stable, co-operative and easily accessible,and (d) when
ample funds are available.
Framework of a cohort study:
In assembling cohorts,the following general considerations are taken into
account:
a. The cohorts must be free from the disease under study. Thus, if the
disease under study is coronary heart disease,the cohort members are
first examined and those who already have evidence of the disease under
investigation are excluded.
b. Both the groups should be comparable in respectof all the possible
variables, which may influence the frequencyof the disease;

c. The diagnostic and eligibility criteria of the disease must
be defined beforehand;this will depend upon the availability of reliable
methods for recognizing the disease when it develops.
Types of cohort studies
1. Prospective cohort studies
2. Retrospective cohortstudies, and
3. A combination of retrospective and prospective cohortstudies.
ELEMENTS OF A COHORT STUDY
The elements of a cohort study are:
1. Selectionof study subjects

2. Obtaining data on exposure

3. Selectionof comparisongroups
4. Follow-up, and
5. Analysis.
1. Selectionof study subjects
(a) General population:
(b) Specialgroups
(i) Selectgroups '. These may be professional groups (e.g., doctors,
nurses, lawyers, teachers, civil servants), insured persons,obstetric
population, college alumni, government employees,volunteers, etc.
ii) Exposure groups:If the exposure is rare, a more economicalprocedure
is to selecta cohort of persons known to have experienced the exposure.
2. Obtaining data on exposure
(a) Cohort members : through personal interviews or mailed questionnaires
(b) Review of records : Certain kinds of information (e.g., dose of radiation,
kinds of surgery, or details of medicaltreatment) can be obtained only from
medical records
(c) Medical examination or special tests
(d) Environmental surveys
3. Selectionof comparisongroups

(a) Internal comparisons
(b) External comparisons
(c) Comparisonwith general population rates
4. Follow-up
One of the problems in cohort studies is the regular follow up of all the
participants. Therefore,at the start of the study methods should be devised
depending upon the outcome to be determined (morbidity or death), to
obtain data for assessing the outcome.The procedures required comprise
(a) periodic medicalexamination of each memberof the cohort
(b) reviewing physician and hospital records

(c) routine surveillance of death records,and

(d) mailed questionnaires, telephone calls, periodic home visits - preferably
all three on an annual basis.
5. Analysis
The data are analysed in terms of :

(a) Incidence rates of outcome among exposed and non- exposed

(b) Estimation of risk.
a) Incidence rates
In a cohort study, we can determine incidence rates directly in those
exposed and those not exposed.A hypothetical example is given in Table
18 showing how incidence rates may be calculated:
(a) among smokers
 = 70/7000 = 10 per 1000
(b) among non-smokers = 3/3000 = 1 per 1000
Statistical significance : P < 0.001
(b) Estimation of risk
Having calculated the incidence rates, the next step is to estimate the risk
of outcome (e.g., disease or death) in the exposedand non-exposed
cohorts. This is done in terms of two well-known indices: (a) relative risk,
(b) attributable risk.
RELATIVERISK
Relative risk (RR) is the ratio of the incidence of the disease (or death)
among exposed and the incidence among non- exposed.Some authors
use the term "risk ratio" to referto relative risk.
ATTRIBUTABLERISK
Attributable risk (AR) is the differencein incidence rates of disease (or
death) between an exposed group and non- exposedgroup. Some authors
use the term "risk difference" to attributable risk.
Attributable risk is oftenexpressed as a per cent. This is given by the
formula
POPULATION- ATTRIBUTABLERISK
The conceptof population attributable risk is useful in that it provides an
estimate of the amount by which the disease could be reduced in that
population if the suspectedfactorwas eliminated or modified.
Relative risk versus attributable risk
Relative risk is important in aetiological enquiries. Its size is a better index
than is attributable risk for assessing the aetiological role of a factor in
disease.The larger the relative risk, the stronger the association between
cause and effect.But relative risk does not reflectthe potential public
health importance as does the attributable risk. That is, attributable risk
gives a better idea than does relative risk of the impact of successful
preventive or public health programme might have in reducing the problem.
Advantages and disadvantages of cohort studies
Advantages
(a) Incidence can be calculated.
(b) Several possibleoutcomesrelated to exposure can be studied
simultaneously - that is, we can study the associationof the suspected
factor with many other diseases in addition to the one under study. For
example, cohort studies designed to study the association between
smoking and lung cancer also showed associationof smoking with
coronary heart disease,peptic ulcer, cancer oesophagus and several
others.
(c) Cohort studies provide a directestimate of relative risk.
(d) Dose-response ratios can also be calculated, and
(e) Since comparisongroups are formed before diseasedevelops,certain
forms of bias can be minimised like mis-classificationof individuals into
exposed and unexposed groups.
Disadvantages
Cohort studies also present a number of problems :
(a) Cohort studies involve a large number of people.They are generally
unsuitable for investigating uncommon diseases or diseaseswith low
incidence in the population.
(b) It takes a long time to complete the study and obtain results (20-30
years or more in cancer studies) by which time the investigators may have
died or the participants may have changed their classification.Even in very
commonchronic diseases like coronary heart disease, cohort studies =::
difficultto carry out. It is difficult to keep a large number of individuals under
medical surveillance indefinitely.
(c) Certain administrative problems suchas loss of experienced staff,loss
of funding and extensive record keeping are inevitable.
(d) It is not unusual to lose a substantial proportion of the original cohort –
they may migrate, lose interest in the study or simply refuse to provide any
required information.
(e) Selectionof comparison groups which are representative of the
exposed and unexposed segments of the population is a limiting factor.
Those who volunteer for the study may not be representative of all
individuals with the characteristics of interest.
f) there may be changes in the standard methods or diagnostic criteria of
the disease over prolonged follow-up.
(g) Cohort studies are expensive
(h) The study itself may alter people's behavior. If we are examining the
role of smoking in lung cancer, an increased concernin the study cohort
may be created. This may induce the study subjects to stop or decrease
smoking.
(i) With any cohort study we are faced with ethical problem of varying
importance. As evidence accumulates about the implicating factor in the
aetiology of disease,we are obliged to intervene and if possiblereduce or
eliminate this factor, and
(j) Finally, in a cohort study, practical consideration dictate that we must
concentrate on a limited number or factors possiblyrelated to disease
outcome.
Cohort study

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Cohort study

  • 1. Cohort study is another type of analytical (observational) study Cohort study is known by a variety of names: prospective study, longitudinal study, incidence study, and forward looking study. The most widely used term. however, is "cohort study" The distinguishing features of cohort studies are:: a. the cohorts are identified prior to the appearance of the disease under investigation 
 b. the study groups,so defined,are observed over a period of time to determine the frequency of disease among them 
 c. the study proceedsforward from cause to effect. 
 Conceptof cohort In epidemiology,the term "cohort" is defined as a group of people who share a commoncharacteristic or experience within a defined time period (e.g., age, occupation, exposure to a drug or vaccine, pregnancy, insured persons,etc). Thus a group of people born on the same day or in the same period of time (usually a year) form a "birth cohort". All those born in 1980 form the birth cohort of 1980.Persons exposedto a commondrug, vaccine or infection within a defined period constitute an "exposure cohort". Indications for cohort studies Cohort studies are indicated : (a) when there is good evidence of an association betweenexposure and disease,as derived from clinical observations and supported by descriptive and case control studies (b) when exposure is rare but the incidence of disease high among exposed. e.g., specialexposure groups like those in industries, exposure to X-rays.
  • 2. etc (c) when attrition of study population can be minimised e.g., follow-up is easy, cohort is stable, co-operative and easily accessible,and (d) when ample funds are available. Framework of a cohort study: In assembling cohorts,the following general considerations are taken into account: a. The cohorts must be free from the disease under study. Thus, if the disease under study is coronary heart disease,the cohort members are first examined and those who already have evidence of the disease under investigation are excluded. b. Both the groups should be comparable in respectof all the possible variables, which may influence the frequencyof the disease;
 c. The diagnostic and eligibility criteria of the disease must be defined beforehand;this will depend upon the availability of reliable methods for recognizing the disease when it develops.
  • 3. Types of cohort studies 1. Prospective cohort studies 2. Retrospective cohortstudies, and 3. A combination of retrospective and prospective cohortstudies. ELEMENTS OF A COHORT STUDY The elements of a cohort study are: 1. Selectionof study subjects
 2. Obtaining data on exposure
 3. Selectionof comparisongroups 4. Follow-up, and 5. Analysis. 1. Selectionof study subjects (a) General population: (b) Specialgroups (i) Selectgroups '. These may be professional groups (e.g., doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, civil servants), insured persons,obstetric population, college alumni, government employees,volunteers, etc.
  • 4. ii) Exposure groups:If the exposure is rare, a more economicalprocedure is to selecta cohort of persons known to have experienced the exposure. 2. Obtaining data on exposure (a) Cohort members : through personal interviews or mailed questionnaires (b) Review of records : Certain kinds of information (e.g., dose of radiation, kinds of surgery, or details of medicaltreatment) can be obtained only from medical records (c) Medical examination or special tests (d) Environmental surveys 3. Selectionof comparisongroups
 (a) Internal comparisons
  • 5. (b) External comparisons (c) Comparisonwith general population rates 4. Follow-up One of the problems in cohort studies is the regular follow up of all the participants. Therefore,at the start of the study methods should be devised depending upon the outcome to be determined (morbidity or death), to obtain data for assessing the outcome.The procedures required comprise (a) periodic medicalexamination of each memberof the cohort (b) reviewing physician and hospital records
 (c) routine surveillance of death records,and
 (d) mailed questionnaires, telephone calls, periodic home visits - preferably all three on an annual basis. 5. Analysis The data are analysed in terms of :
 (a) Incidence rates of outcome among exposed and non- exposed 
(b) Estimation of risk. a) Incidence rates In a cohort study, we can determine incidence rates directly in those exposed and those not exposed.A hypothetical example is given in Table 18 showing how incidence rates may be calculated:
  • 6. (a) among smokers
 = 70/7000 = 10 per 1000 (b) among non-smokers = 3/3000 = 1 per 1000 Statistical significance : P < 0.001 (b) Estimation of risk Having calculated the incidence rates, the next step is to estimate the risk of outcome (e.g., disease or death) in the exposedand non-exposed cohorts. This is done in terms of two well-known indices: (a) relative risk, (b) attributable risk. RELATIVERISK Relative risk (RR) is the ratio of the incidence of the disease (or death) among exposed and the incidence among non- exposed.Some authors use the term "risk ratio" to referto relative risk.
  • 7. ATTRIBUTABLERISK Attributable risk (AR) is the differencein incidence rates of disease (or death) between an exposed group and non- exposedgroup. Some authors use the term "risk difference" to attributable risk. Attributable risk is oftenexpressed as a per cent. This is given by the formula POPULATION- ATTRIBUTABLERISK The conceptof population attributable risk is useful in that it provides an estimate of the amount by which the disease could be reduced in that population if the suspectedfactorwas eliminated or modified. Relative risk versus attributable risk Relative risk is important in aetiological enquiries. Its size is a better index
  • 8. than is attributable risk for assessing the aetiological role of a factor in disease.The larger the relative risk, the stronger the association between cause and effect.But relative risk does not reflectthe potential public health importance as does the attributable risk. That is, attributable risk gives a better idea than does relative risk of the impact of successful preventive or public health programme might have in reducing the problem. Advantages and disadvantages of cohort studies Advantages (a) Incidence can be calculated. (b) Several possibleoutcomesrelated to exposure can be studied simultaneously - that is, we can study the associationof the suspected factor with many other diseases in addition to the one under study. For example, cohort studies designed to study the association between smoking and lung cancer also showed associationof smoking with coronary heart disease,peptic ulcer, cancer oesophagus and several others. (c) Cohort studies provide a directestimate of relative risk. (d) Dose-response ratios can also be calculated, and (e) Since comparisongroups are formed before diseasedevelops,certain forms of bias can be minimised like mis-classificationof individuals into exposed and unexposed groups. Disadvantages Cohort studies also present a number of problems : (a) Cohort studies involve a large number of people.They are generally unsuitable for investigating uncommon diseases or diseaseswith low incidence in the population. (b) It takes a long time to complete the study and obtain results (20-30
  • 9. years or more in cancer studies) by which time the investigators may have died or the participants may have changed their classification.Even in very commonchronic diseases like coronary heart disease, cohort studies =:: difficultto carry out. It is difficult to keep a large number of individuals under medical surveillance indefinitely. (c) Certain administrative problems suchas loss of experienced staff,loss of funding and extensive record keeping are inevitable. (d) It is not unusual to lose a substantial proportion of the original cohort – they may migrate, lose interest in the study or simply refuse to provide any required information. (e) Selectionof comparison groups which are representative of the exposed and unexposed segments of the population is a limiting factor. Those who volunteer for the study may not be representative of all individuals with the characteristics of interest. f) there may be changes in the standard methods or diagnostic criteria of the disease over prolonged follow-up. (g) Cohort studies are expensive (h) The study itself may alter people's behavior. If we are examining the role of smoking in lung cancer, an increased concernin the study cohort may be created. This may induce the study subjects to stop or decrease smoking. (i) With any cohort study we are faced with ethical problem of varying importance. As evidence accumulates about the implicating factor in the aetiology of disease,we are obliged to intervene and if possiblereduce or eliminate this factor, and (j) Finally, in a cohort study, practical consideration dictate that we must concentrate on a limited number or factors possiblyrelated to disease outcome.