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Int J Radiat Biol. 2018 Nov 9:1-21. doi: 10.1080/09553002.2018.1539884. [Epub ahead of print]

Obtaining Vital Status and Cause of Death on a Million Persons.

Author information

a International Epidemiology Institute , Rockville , MD , USA.
b EpidStat Institute , Ann Arbor , MI , USA.
c Oak Ridge Associated Universities , Oak Ridge , TN , USA.
d National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements , Bethesda , MD , USA.
e Vanderbilt Epidemiology Center, Division of Epidemiology, Department of Medicine, Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, Vanderbilt University Medical Center , Nashville , TN , USA.



To present the methodology used to determine vital status and obtain cause of death within the Million Person Study of Low-Dose Health Effects (MPS). Data sources and vital status tracing techniques used to obtain vital status and cause of death for six (n=424,238 subjects) of the ~20+ cohorts under study are described.


A multistage approach using multiple sources of vital status information was used to determine vital status (or 'trace') study participants from as early as 1940 to the present. Mortality records from state departments of vital statistics and the Social Security Administration Death Master File (SSA-DMF) were matched to study participants by Social Security Number, full name, date of birth, and/or sex using deterministic and probabilistic algorithms. The National Death Index (NDI) and SSA Service for Epidemiological Researchers (SSA-SER) were used to obtain cause of death (after 1978) and verification of alive status, respectively. Online public records and ancestry services, death certificates, and specialized mortality sources were also utilized.


For the MPS cohorts traced to date (nuclear power plant workers, industrial radiographers, atomic veterans, and workers at Rocketdyne /Atomics International, Mound nuclear facility, and Mallinckrodt Chemical Works), vital status was confirmed for over 90% of all study subjects in all but one cohort (88%). The ascertainment of cause of death was over 96% for all cohorts.


A hallmark of a high-quality epidemiologic cohort mortality study is a low percentage of subjects with unknown vital status and a low percentage of deaths without a cause of death. The sources and methods used for vital status tracing and cause of death determination for the MPS have been successful and should be useful for other investigators tracing large, historic study populations. Some of the approaches would be applicable for use in all cohort studies using regional-specific mortality data or modifications to the approach.

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