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Am J Epidemiol. 2011 Oct 1;174(7):860-70. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwr146. Epub 2011 Aug 4.

Use of surveillance, epidemiology, and end results-medicare data to conduct case-control studies of cancer among the US elderly.

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  • 1Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute, Rockville, Maryland 20892, USA.


Cancer is an important cause of morbidity in the elderly, and many medical conditions and treatments influence cancer risk. The Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER)-Medicare database can be used to conduct population-based case-control studies that elucidate the etiology of cancer among the US elderly. SEER-Medicare links data on malignancies ascertained through SEER cancer registries to claims from Medicare, the US government insurance program for people over age 65 years. Under one approach described herein, elderly cancer cases are ascertained from SEER data (1987-2005). Matched controls are selected from a 5% random sample of Medicare beneficiaries. Risk factors of interest, including medical conditions and procedures, are identified by using linked Medicare claims. Strengths of this design include the ready availability of data, representative sampling from the US elderly population, and large sample size (e.g., under one scenario: 1,176,950 cases, including 221,389 prostate cancers, 185,853 lung cancers, 138,041 breast cancers, and 124,442 colorectal cancers; and 100,000 control subjects). Limitations reflect challenges in exposure assessment related to Medicare claims: restricted range of evaluable risk factors, short time before diagnosis/selection for ascertainment, and inaccuracies in claims. With awareness of limitations, investigators have in SEER-Medicare data a valuable resource for epidemiologic research on cancer etiology.

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