The purpose of the ELDCARE project is to study differences in cancer survival for elderly patients by country, taking into account the socio-economic conditions and the characteristics of health care systems at the ecological level. Fifty-three European cancer registries, from 19 countries, participating in the EUROCARE 3 programme, collected information to compute relative survival on patients aged 65-84 years, diagnosed over the period 1990-1994. National statistics offices provided the macro-economic and labour force indicators (gross domestic product, total health expenditure, and proportion of people employed in the agriculture sector) as well as the features of national health care systems. Survival for several of the cancer sites had high positive Pearson's correlations (r) with the affluence indicators (usually r > 0.7), but survival for the poor prognosis cancers (lung, ovary, stomach) and for cervix uteri was not so well correlated. Among the medical resources considered, the number of computed tomography scanners was the variable most related to survival in the elderly; the number of total health practitioners in the country did not show any relationship. Survival was related to the marital status of elderly women more strongly than for men and younger people. The highest correlations of survival with the percentage of married elderly women in the population were for cancers of the rectum (r = 0.79) and breast (r = 0.66), while survival correlated negatively with the proportion of widows for most cancers. Being married or widowed is for elderly people, in particular elderly women, an important factor influencing psychological status, life habits and social relationships. Social conditions could play a major role in determining health outcomes, particularly in the elderly, by affecting access to health care and delay in diagnosis
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