Aims: As part of the ITACARE project, the present study analyzed and compared population-based data on the survival of adult cancer patients in Italy, according to sex, age, period of diagnosis and geographical area.
Methods: Nine Italian population-based cancer registries provided data on all their cancer patients (total 90,431 cases) followed for at least 5 years and diagnosed during the period 1978-1989. About 10% of the Italian population is covered by these registries. The data was analyzed by means of a multivariate model.
Results: The major findings were that there was a general improvement in 5-year relative survival over the study period (from 33% to 39%) and that there were significant differences in survival between different areas of the country, particularly for cancer sites which respond well to treatment. In general, the area covered by the Ragusa (Sicily) registry was characterized by significantly worse survival than other registry populations. Other important findings were that for all malignant cancer sites 5-year relative survival decreased with age from 50% for the youngest age class (15-44 years) to 27% for the oldest age class (75+ years) and that women have a better prognosis for most cancer sites (overall 5-year relative survival in women 48% vs 32% in men).
Conclusions: The significant regional differences in survival may reflect unequal provision of care, particularly between northern-central Italy and the south. The reasons for the general survival improvement with time are not completely understood, whereas the marked overall sex difference is related to the fact that the commonest cancer in women (breast cancer) is eminently more treatable than the commonest malignancy in men (lung cancer). The unfavorable trend with increasing age may be due to increasing difficulty in applying complete therapy protocols as general health declines, sometimes in relation to an advanced cancer stage at diagnosis.