Clinical Review

Survival probabilities (the Kaplan-Meier method)

BMJ 1998; 317 doi: (Published 05 December 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;317:1572
  1. J Martin Bland, professor of medical statisticsa,
  2. Douglas G Altman, headb
  1. Department of Public Health Sciences, St George's Hospital Medical School, London SW17 0RE
  2. ICRF Medical Statistics Group, Centre for Statistics in Medicine, Institute of Health Sciences, Oxford OX3 7LF
  1. aCorrespondence to: Professor Bland

    As we have observed,1 analysis of survival data requires special techniques because some observations are censored as the event of interest has not occurred for all patients. For example, when patients are recruited over two years one recruited at the end of the study may be alive at one year follow up, whereas one recruited at the start may have died after two years. The patient who died has a longer observed survival than the one who still survives and whose ultimate survival time is unknown.

    The table shows data from a study of conception in subfertile women.2 The event is conception, and women “survived” until they conceived. One woman conceived after 16 months (menstrual cycles), whereas several were followed for shorter time periods during which they did not conceive; their time to conceive was thus censored.

    View this table:

    Time (months) to conception or censoring in 38 sub-fertile women after laparoscopy and hydrotubation2

    We wish to estimate the proportion surviving (not having conceived) by any given time, …

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