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Clin Epidemiol. 2012;4:99-110. doi: 10.2147/CLEP.S30816. Epub 2012 Apr 27.

Matched case-control studies: a review of reported statistical methodology.

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Department of Critical Care Medicine, Peter Lougheed Centre, Calgary.



Case-control studies are a common and efficient means of studying rare diseases or illnesses with long latency periods. Matching of cases and controls is frequently employed to control the effects of known potential confounding variables. The analysis of matched data requires specific statistical methods.


The objective of this study was to determine the proportion of published, peer-reviewed matched case-control studies that used statistical methods appropriate for matched data. Using a comprehensive set of search criteria we identified 37 matched case-control studies for detailed analysis.


Among these 37 articles, only 16 studies were analyzed with proper statistical techniques (43%). Studies that were properly analyzed were more likely to have included case patients with cancer and cardiovascular disease compared to those that did not use proper statistics (10/16 or 63%, versus 5/21 or 24%, P = 0.02). They were also more likely to have matched multiple controls for each case (14/16 or 88%, versus 13/21 or 62%, P = 0.08). In addition, studies with properly analyzed data were more likely to have been published in a journal with an impact factor listed in the top 100 according to the Journal Citation Reports index (12/16 or 69%, versus 1/21 or 5%, P ≤ 0.0001).


The findings of this study raise concern that the majority of matched case-control studies report results that are derived from improper statistical analyses. This may lead to errors in estimating the relationship between a disease and exposure, as well as the incorrect adaptation of emerging medical literature.


case-control; dependent data; matched; statistics

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