What is the difference between a retrospective and a prospective cohort study?

The primary difference between a retrospective cohort study and a prospective cohort study is the timing of the data collection and the direction of the study.

A retrospective cohort study looks back in time. It uses preexisting secondary research data to examine the relationship between an exposure and an outcome. Data is collected after the outcome you’re studying has already occurred.

Alternatively, a prospective cohort study follows a group of individuals over time. It collects data on both the exposure and the outcome of interest as they are occurring. Data is collected before the outcome of interest has occurred.