Cancer survival rates climb in Italy

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Cancer survival rates in Italy improved between 1995 and 2009. Photo: Photo of cancer patient: Shutterstock
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Italy saw a strong rise in five-year cancer survival rates from 1995 to 2009, but poorer countries are missing out on the benefits of improved treatment methods, a major new global study shows.

Italy’s overall five-year survival rate for almost all types of cancer covered rose in the period in question, according to the results of the Concord 2 study published in the medical journal, The Lancet, on Wednesday.

Among Italian adults, the greatest improvement was seen in survival for people suffering from prostate cancer.

A total of 79.1 percent of people diagnosed with this type of tumour from 1995 to 1999 survived for five years. For people diagnosed from 2005 to 2009, however, the rate was 89.7 percent.

Strong improvements were also seen for cancer of the colon and rectum, and for breast cancer, where the survival rate rose from 82.8 percent to 86.2 percent.

That puts Italy high up in the global rankings, in the same bracket as countries like Switzerland and Sweden. Overall, survival rates in Italy were also higher than in the UK and France.

Lung cancer survival rates also improved, rising 12.9 percent to 14.7 percent.

The only cancer where the survival rate dropped slightly was leukaemia, falling from 47.0 percent to 46.7 percent.

The rise in survival rates — in line with general upward trends for developing countries — was likely to reflect earlier diagnosis and better treatments such as pre-operative radiotherapy and total excision of large sections of the bowel for rectal cancer, the study authors said.

The study of over 25 million people in 67 countries also reveals a large rise in the survival rate for Italian children suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. The increase here was from 82.2 percent from 1995 to 1999 to 87.7 percent a decade later.

Still, cancer is the main cause of death in the EU, with the disease claiming 45.2 percent of lives in Italy between 2001 and 2011, according to figures published by Eurostat on Tuesday.

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The Lancet study also showed the huge global gap in treating children with this form of leukaemia. In Jordan, the survival rate was just 16.45 from 2005 to 2009. That figure was 39.5 in Lesotho and 50.15 percent in Tunisia.

“Our findings show that in some countries, cancer is far more lethal than in others—in the 21st century there should not be such a dramatic gulf in survival,” said Dr Claudia Allemani, lead study author and Senior Lecturer in Cancer Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

“The majority of the variability in survival is probably due to factors that can be changed, such as the availability and quality of diagnostic and treatment services. The findings can be used to evaluate the extent to which investment in health-care systems is improving their effectiveness. We expect them to act as a stimulus for politicians to improve health policy and invest in health care.”   

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