Italian cancer figures, report 2010: Cancer prevalence in Italy. Patients living with cancer, long-term survivors and cured patients

Epidemiol Prev. Sep-Dec 2010;34(5-6 Suppl 2):1-188.
[Article in English, Italian]


Objectives: the aim of the present monograph is to update the estimation of the number of people living with cancer in Italy, to describe geographic variability, and estimate the number of long-term survivors, i.e., people living five years or more after a cancer diagnosis.

Materials and methods: the study included the data of the AIRTUMdatabase. Twenty-four Cancer Registries (CRs) (covering 27% of the Italian population) collected information on the incidence and vital status of 1,275,353 cases diagnosed between 1978 and 2005. For each CR, the observed prevalence was calculated up to the maximum observable duration. To estimate the complete prevalence (all living patients, independently from time since diagnosis) and the prevalence for lengths of time exceeding the CR maximum duration of registration, the observed prevalence was corrected through a completeness index. Completeness indices, gender, age and site specific, were estimated by means of statistical regression models using cancer incidence and survival data available from CRs with more than 15 years of observation. As of 1 January 2006, the prevalence was estimated (as absolute numbers and as a proportion per 100,000 inhabitants) for 46 cancer sites, by gender, age class, years since diagnosis and geographic areas.

Results: as of 2006, 2,244,000 persons (4%of the Italian population) were alive with a cancer diagnosis. A relevant geographic variability emerged, with proportions between 4%-5% among CRs in the Centre and North of Italy, and proportions between 2%-3% in the South. Forty-four percent of prevalent subjects (988,000) were males and 56% (1,256,000) females. Fifty-seven percent (1,285,680 people, 2.2% of total population) of these patients was represented by long-term survivors. In patients aged 75 years or more, the proportions of prevalent cases were 19%in males and 13%in females, and 10%between 60 and 75 years of age in both genders.More than half a million Italian women were alive with a breast cancer diagnosis (42%of women with a neoplasm), followed by women with cancers of the colonrectum (12%), corpus uteri (7%), thyroid (5%), and cervix uteri (4%). In men, 22%of prevalent cases (216,716) included patients with prostate cancer, 18% with bladder cancer, and 15%with colon-rectum cancer. Percentages of long-term survivors higher than 70% were reported for cancers of the cervix uteri (82% at five years, and 55% at 15 years from diagnosis), Hodgkin lymphoma, testis, brain and central nervous system, bone and connective tissue. Many patients with these types of cancers (often occurring in young people) can be considered "cured", i.e., with a life expectancy overlapping that of the general population.The estimated proportions of prevalent cases emerging from this study in Italy were quite similar to those reported in Northern Europe, but at least 15%lower than those in the United States.

Conclusions: in 2006, the number of prevalent cases nearly doubled compared to 1992. The increase over time in the proportion of elderly patients, related to population ageing, requires adequate health policies. Knowing the number of people alive many years after cancer diagnosis (either cured or long-term survivors) provides the scientific bases for the definition of health policies focusing on them. Furthermore, it promotes the conduction of studies aimed at improving the present knowledge on the quality of life of these patients during and after the active phase of treatments, in addition to studies on the long-term effects of treatments.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Databases, Factual
  • Epidemiologic Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Italy / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Prevalence
  • Registries
  • Remission Induction
  • Survivors / statistics & numerical data
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult