Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been diagnosed with chronic blood cancer and is currently in intensive care for a lung infection, according to his doctors.
The 86-year-old, whose media empire has made him a billionaire, was rushed to Milan’s San Raffaele hospital’s intensive care unit on Wednesday, raising concerns about his deteriorating health.
In their first statement on his condition, doctors Alberto Zangrillo and Fabio Ciceri revealed that Berlusconi had been diagnosed in the past with Chronic Myelomonocytic Leukaemia (CML). They did not specify when the cancer was first spotted, saying only that it was not acute.
“Silvio Berlusconi is currently in intensive care for the treatment of a lung infection,” they said, adding that the illness was related to the cancer.
CML affects white blood cells and in most cases cannot be cured, doctors say. Around 70% of men will live for at least five years after their diagnosis while younger adults tend to have a better outlook, according to advice provided to patients by Britain’s National Health Service.
Three of Berlusconi’s five children, daughter Marina and sons Luigi and Pier Silvio, were seen arriving at the hospital on Thursday. His close friend and business partner Fedele Confalonieri also visited.
“We’re more optimistic, today (he looks) much better than yesterday,” Confalonieri told reporters.
Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party is part of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s right-wing coalition, though the former prime minister does not have a role in government.
“We all want to be optimistic and we hope that the lion will return soon to take charge of the party. He’s our political leader and of course he never gives up,” Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Antonio Tajani told RAI state television.
Berlusconi, who made his fortune from commercial television, has suffered repeated bouts of ill-health in recent years and came out of the same hospital just last week after several days of unspecified treatment.
“I must say that I am very saddened. I feel a kind of melancholy, awe and fear, because he was a man who was great in so many ways,” Tourism Minister Daniela Santanche told Radio 24.
Berlusconi stepped down as prime minister for the last time in 2011, weighed down by sleaze and scandal, including his notorious “bunga bunga” parties, as Italy came close to a Greek-style debt crisis.
But he returned to the Italian Senate after a national election last September. There is no obvious successor as leader of his party.
As well as his enduring influence on Italian politics, Berlusconi’s Fininvest family holding group retains control of the MediaForEurope broadcast business. His son Pier Silvio Berlusconi is chief executive of the company.
Berlusconi built Italy’s biggest commercial TV network and gained an international profile as owner of European soccer champions AC Milan before entering politics in 1994, when the previous political class was brought down by a corruption scandal.
His health has deteriorated in recent years. He had heart surgery in 2016, has also had prostate cancer, and has been repeatedly admitted to hospital since contracting COVID-19 in 2020.