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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Response rates to a mailed survey of a representative sample of cancer patients randomly drawn from the Pennsylvania Cancer Registry: a randomized trial of incentive and length effects

Bridget J Kelly1*, Taressa K Fraze2 and Robert C Hornik2

Author Affiliations

1 Research Triangle Institute, Washington, DC, USA

2 Center of Excellence in Cancer Communication Research, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA

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BMC Medical Research Methodology 2010, 10:65  doi:10.1186/1471-2288-10-65

Published: 14 July 2010



In recent years, response rates to telephone surveys have declined. Online surveys may miss many older and poorer adults. Mailed surveys may have promise in securing higher response rates.


In a pilot study, 1200 breast, prostate and colon patients, randomly selected from the Pennsylvania Cancer Registry, were sent surveys in the mail. Incentive amount ($3 vs. $5) and length of the survey (10 pages vs. 16 pages) were randomly assigned.


Overall, there was a high response rate (AAPOR RR4 = 64%). Neither the amount of the incentive, nor the length of the survey affected the response rate significantly. Colon cancer surveys were returned at a significantly lower rate (RR4 = 54%), than breast or prostate surveys (RR4 = 71%, and RR4 = 67%, respectively; p < .001 for both comparisons). There were no significant interactions among cancer type, length of survey and incentive amount in their effects on response likelihood.


Mailed surveys may provide a suitable alternative option for survey-based research with cancer patients.