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Cancer prevalence—the proportion of people in a population with a diagnosis of cancer—includes groups with widely differing cancer care needs. We estimated the proportions of the prevalent colon cancer cases requiring initial care, terminal care and follow-up.Prevalence by year since diagnosis was estimated from incidence and vital status data on 243 471 colon cancer cases collected by EUROPREVAL from 36 European population-based cancer registries. The proportions of cured and fatal cases were estimated by applying ‘cure’ survival models to the dataset. The proportion of recurrence-free cases was estimated by analysis of a representative sample of 278 colon cancer patients from the Lombardy Cancer Registry (LCR), northern Italy.The proportions of total prevalence requiring initial care was estimated at 12% in the LCR and 10% in Italy and Europe. Recurrence-free patients formed 89% of the total prevalence in the LCR and 91% in Italy and Europe. Eleven per cent (LCR) and 9% (Italy, Europe) of the total prevalence had recurred and consisted of patients in the terminal phase of their illness.In 1992, 660 000 people were living with a diagnosis of colon cancer in Europe. We have estimated the proportions of this prevalence requiring particular types health care in the years following diagnosis, providing data useful for planning the allocation of health-care resources.