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Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program (SEER), and SEER-Medicare data

  • Owner / manager
  • Study and sample characteristics
  • Major foci
  • Special supplements and resources
  • Links to other datasets
  • Papers published
  • Dataset accessibility and cost
  • Help desk
  • Request a consultation (SGIM members only)


Key Web Pages

SEER home page

SEER-Medicare home page

SEER overview

SEER-Medicare overview

Accessing SEER data and data analytic tools

Dataset Summary and Expert Details

The SEER program compiles data on cancer diagnoses, cancer characteristics (such as stage and morphology), and outcomes from population-based cancer registries that cover 26% of the U.S. population.  SEER-Medicare links SEER data with Medicare files from the same patients, thereby adding additional information collected by Medicare such as other diagnoses, use of diagnostic tests, health services utilization, and more.  In addition, SEER-Medicare contains data on a representative sample of patients without cancer to allow for comparisons.  These databases are a prime source of data for researchers investigating patterns of prevalence, health care, and cancer outcomes in the U.S.  SEER provides a variety of useful data resources to facilitate analysis of the data.  However, the SEER-Medicare website warns that the linked data is large and complex, and recommends that investigators become familiar with the complexities of the data before undertaking a formal analysis.  SEER data is available by download for free after completion of a data use agreement.  SEER-Medicare charges a fee to compile data for researchers, usually in the range of a few hundred dollars to a somewhat over $1000.

Expert Comments

SEER-Medicare combines useful data from three sources: (1) SEER contains information on demographics, stage and treatment information about each cancer; (2) Medicare enrollment includes demographic information, eligibility information, and HMO vs. fee-for-service enrollment information; (3) Medicare claims include hospital, outpatient, hospice, and home health information.

SEER alone provides detailed information about cancer stage and treatment at the time of diagnosis, SEER-Medicare augments this with more detailed data on longitudinal health services utilization (e.g. chemotherapy, hospital visits, hospice use).  SEER-Medicare has more detailed demographic information including census  and zip code level household income, wealth, and % population with a high school education.  The primary limitation of SEER-Medicare is that it provides no information on uncovered patients, including individuals younger than 65 or those with Medicaid or private insurance.

SEER is publicly available and fairly easy to use.  SEER-Medicare, in contrast, contains multiple files, data measures often require weeks to months to create, and requires advanced programming techniques.  The assistance of a programmer familiar with Medicare claims would be extremely useful in conducting a study using SEER-Medicare.

Dataset Details

Dataset owner / manager

National Cancer Institute (SEER) and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (Medicare component of SEER-Medicare).   Requests for SEER-Medicare data are handled by Information Management Services, Inc, a programming contractor.

            Study and sample characteristics

SEER collects data from population-based cancer registries covering 26% of the U.S. population, ranging from 23% of African Americans to 70% of Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders.  Data collection began in 1986 and continues through the present.  Mortality data available through SEER is obtained from the National Center for Health Statistics.  SEER-Medicare provides linked Medicare claims data to patients in the SEER registry.  In addition, since 1991 Medicare has also provided data on a random sample of patients living in SEER catchment areas for comparative purposes.

Data on the racial and ethnic breakdown of the SEER coverage can be found at

Major Foci

Major topics of data collection include:


patient demographics
primary tumor site
tumor morphology and stage at diagnosis
first course of treatment (including surgery, radiation therapy, etc.)
follow-up for vital status


Administrative data from Medicare, including:
Patient demographics
Office and hospital visits
Use of procedures
Use of diagnostic tests

Papers Published

SEER:  Click here for a PubMed search for articles using this dataset. 

SEER-Medicare:  Click here for a PubMed search for articles using this dataset.

Searchable bibliographies of SEER and SEER-Medicare publications:

Examples of papers published using SEER and SEER-Medicare include:

Racial and ethnic differences in end of life care in fee-for-service Medicare beneficiaries with advanced cancer.
Smith AK, Earle CC, McCarthy EP.
J Amer Geriatr Soc. 2009;57:153-8.

Effect of a dementia diagnosis on survival of older patients after a diagnosis of breast, colon, or prostate cancer: implications for cancer care.
Raji MA, Kuo YF, Freeman JL, Goodwin JS.
Arch Intern Med. 2008 Oct 13;168(18):2033-40.

Hospital lymph node examination rates and survival after resection for colon cancer.
Wong SL, Ji H, Hollenbeck BK, Morris AM, Baser O, Birkmeyer JD.
JAMA. 2007 Nov 14;298(18):2149-54.

The impact of chronic illnesses on the use and effectiveness of adjuvant chemotherapy for colon cancer.
Gross CP, McAvay GJ, Guo Z, Tinetti ME.
Cancer. 2007 Jun 15;109(12):2410-9.

Relation between Medicare screening reimbursement and stage at diagnosis for older patients with colon cancer.
Gross CP, Andersen MS, Krumholz HM, McAvay GJ, Proctor D, Tinetti ME.
JAMA. 2006 Dec 20;296(23):2815-22.

Dataset accessibility and cost

SEER data is available for free download after completion of a data use agreement.

SEER Medicare data is available after completion of a data request.  Data is compiled by a contractor working with the National Cancer Institute; fees vary by the data request, but usually range from a few hundred dollars to a bit over $1000.

Help Desk

Contact about SEER website and materials:

SEER-Medicare contact
Elaine Yanisko

SEER and SEER-Medicare provide a variety of resources to help investigators.  This includes SEER*Stat, statistical software to facilitate intuitive analysis of SEER data; several programs to help calculate cancer prevalence and survival; and downloadable SAS input statements for Medicare files.

Accessing datasets, data tools, and documentation

Software, services, and training (see left-hand side of page)

Programming support

Analytic support for researchers