Standard Period Life Table Used to Compute the Life Expectancy of Diseased Subpopulations: More Confusing Than Helpful
Life expectancy (LE) based on a period life table (PLT) traditionally serves as a general population summary metric. It is, however, becoming more frequently reported for chronically afflicted subpopulations.
In general populations, there is always an obvious real cohort sharing the hypothetical PLT cohort characteristics, and the LE estimate is intuitively understood as that real cohort mean survival time, assuming constancy of death risks. In diseased subpopulations, the correspondence between the hypothetical cohort and a real cohort is not straightforward. Furthermore, the excess mortality of chronic diseases usually changes according to age at onset and time since onset. The standard PLT method does not allow for proper control of these issues, so the LE estimate can only be deemed valid under specific assumptions.
Without clear statements about the real cohort to whom the estimate is intended and the assumptions allowing disregard of the effect of age at onset and time since onset, LEs of afflicted subpopulations computed with the PLT are only abstract numbers summarizing mortality rates. If called “life expectancy,” they can be seriously misleading. The same applies to health-adjusted LE.