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Italy's cancer survival rates best in EU
Published : 18 Jan 2020, 02:03
The survival rates for several types of cancer are higher in Italy than in the rest of the European Union (EU) on average, according to a report entitled "State of Health in the EU: Italy" and presented in the southern Italian city of Bari on Friday.
Published by the European Commission in cooperation with the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the study showed that survival rates in Italy were 90 percent against 87 percent in the EU for prostate cancer; 16 percent against 15 percent for lung cancer; 86 percent against 83 percent for breast cancer; and 64 percent against 60 percent for colon cancer.
"Italy's low levels of preventable deaths can be explained, at least in part, by solid public health policies implemented about a decade ago," the researchers wrote.
They pointed out that survival rates were low despite a relatively limited access to free public screenings offered by the National Health Service (SSN) over the 2000s for common cancer types, such as breast, cervical and colorectal.
"Five-year survival rates following diagnosis for these and other cancers were slightly higher in Italy than in other EU countries, suggesting the health system is generally able to provide effective and timely treatments."
The figures on other main health problems also appeared to be positive, with low mortality rates registered for ischaemic heart disease, suicide and alcohol-related diseases, and accidental deaths.
Overall, cardiovascular diseases remained the main cause of death in the country.
This situation, according to the researchers, "reflects the health system's effectiveness" as Italy reports the second lowest preventable mortality rate in the EU after Cyprus.
Italy's mortality rate was 9.7 per thousand (live births) in 2011, and 8.2 per thousand in 2016, according to the National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT).
"The number of deaths deemed potentially avoidable through health care interventions was also one of the lowest in EU in 2016, indicating the Italian health system is generally effective in treating patients with life-threatening conditions," the researchers added.
The report singled out some of the changes that helped reach such results, including a nationwide smoking ban in public areas and workplaces (implemented in 2005), and stricter rules on access to tobacco for youth (2013).
Another factor was a "remarkable reduction in alcohol consumption in recent decades ... explained largely by various socio-demographic and economic factors."
The Italian authorities implemented stricter drink driving regulations and new sales restrictions during mass events, besides raising the age limit for purchasing alcohol to 18 years in 2012.
Overall, Italy's life expectancy at birth increased from 79.9 years in 2000 to 83.1 years in 2017, against the EU averages of 77.3 years and 80.9 years, respectively, thus becoming the second highest in the EU after that of Spain (83.4 years in 2017).
Since 2000, the gender gap in life expectancy also improved, although Italian men would still live four years less than women on average, according to the report.
While "inequalities by socioeconomic status remain non-negligible" in the country, researchers said these affected life expectancy less than in other EU countries.
Finally, the report said mortality rates from Alzheimer's have risen significantly, although this could be ascribed to "improvements in diagnosis and changes in death registration practices."
Italy's SSN provides universal coverage, and it is funded by 8.8 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2017, one percentage point below the EU average of 9.8 percent.
Public funding represents about three-quarters of the country's health spending, with the rest covered by the citizens' direct payments.
Health spending per capita was 2,483 euros (2,754 U.S. dollars) per year in 2017, about 15 percent below the EU average of 2,884 euros.
The country employs a higher number of doctors (four per 1,000 population) than the in rest of the EU (3.6 per 1,000) -- though their average age is over 55, feeding public concerns about future scarcity -- but fewer nurses (5.8 per 1,000 against 8.5 per 1,000).
All data and information in the report were based on validated official national statistics.