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Epidemiology. 2005 Mar;16(2):262-5.

Validating cancer histories in deceased relatives.

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Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL 60612, USA.



A family history of cancer is a marker of familially shared genetic and environmental risk factors for cancer but is subject to inaccurate and biased reporting.


In a case-control study of adult acute leukemia, we examined the accuracy of cancer reports in deceased first-degree relatives using death certificates and the National Death Index (NDI). We submitted information on 1058 deceased relatives to the NDI or civil vital statistics registries. Social security numbers were not available and identifying information was incomplete.


A death certificate was located for 70% of records sent to state registries but for only 32% of records submitted to the NDI. Death certificates confirmed 95% of relatives reported to be cancer-free and 83% of those reported to have any form of cancer. Confirmation of cancer of specific sites ranged from 50% for breast cancer and 54% for leukemia to 86% for prostate cancer.


State searches may be preferable to the NDI when identifying information is incomplete.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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