GRADE Guidelines: 29. Rating the certainty in time-to-event outcomes-Study limitations due to censoring of participants with missing data in intervention studies

GRADE Working Group

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


OBJECTIVES: To provide Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development, and Evaluation (GRADE) guidance for the consideration of study limitations (risk of bias) due to missing participant outcome data for time-to-event outcomes in intervention studies.

STUDY DESIGN AND SETTING: We developed this guidance through an iterative process that included membership consultation, feedback, presentation, and iterative discussion at meetings of the GRADE working group.

RESULTS: The GRADE working group has published guidance on how to account for missing participant outcome data in binary and continuous outcomes. When analyzing time-to-event outcomes (e.g., overall survival and time-to-treatment failure) data of participants for whom the outcome of interest (e.g., death and relapse) has not been observed are dealt with through censoring. To do so, standard methods require that censored individuals are representative for those remaining in the study. Two types of censoring can be distinguished, end of study censoring and censoring because of missing data, commonly named loss to follow-up censoring. However, both types are not distinguishable with the usual information on censoring available to review authors. Dealing with individuals for whom data are missing during follow-up in the same way as individuals for whom full follow-up is available at the end of the study increases the risk of bias. Considerable differences in the treatment arms in the distribution of censoring over time (early versus late censoring), the overall degree of missing follow-up data, and the reasons why individuals were lost to follow-up may reduce the certainty in the study results. With often only very limited data available, review and guideline authors are required to make transparent and well-considered judgments when judging risk of bias of individual studies and then come to an overall grading decision for the entire body of evidence.

CONCLUSION: Concern for risk of bias resulting from censoring of participants for whom follow-up data are missing in the underlying studies of a body of evidence can be expressed in the study limitations (risk of bias) domain of the GRADE approach.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)126-137
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Clinical Epidemiology
Early online date29 Sept 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2020 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


  • Bias
  • Clinical Studies as Topic/methods
  • GRADE Approach
  • Humans
  • Lost to Follow-Up
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care/methods
  • Patient Dropouts
  • Research Design/standards
  • Risk Assessment

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