THE risk of developing cancer was 30% higher in the most deprived areas of Scotland in 2021, new figures showed.

The report by Public Health Scotland also found cancer cases in Scotland rose by almost 15% in a year, after falling in the first year of the Covid pandemic.

There were 35,379 new cases of cancer detected in Scotland in 2021 – 14.6% higher than they had been in 2020 – with a fall in the numbers then “largely due to under-diagnosis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions”, which included the temporary halting of some cancer screening programmes.

But Public Health Scotland said: “Given the subsequent rise in incidence, this does not appear to have been an issue in 2021.”

The most recent figures showed slightly more cases amongst females than males, with 17,779 women diagnosed with the disease compared to 17,600 men.

The most common cancers in Scotland in 2021 were lung, breast, bowel and prostate, with these together accounting for more than half of all cases.

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The data, however, also showed the overall risk of developing cancer was 30% higher in the most deprived parts of the country than it was in the least deprived areas.

The report explained that while the issue of under-diagnosis had “largely been resolved” by 2021 in more deprived areas “there was evidence of this persisting to some extent for certain cancer types”, such as breast, cervical and bowel cancer.

Cervical cancer was nearly twice as commonly diagnosed in the most deprived parts of the country compared with the least deprived areas in 2021, the report revealed.

It added that prostate cancer was more commonly diagnosed in the least deprived areas, which “may be due to their greater use of PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) testing”.

The report added: “As a result, a higher proportion of prostate cancers diagnosed in the most deprived areas were late stage, compared with those in the least deprived areas.”

Charity Macmillan Cancer Support said they were alarmed by the figures, emphasising the disparity between the most and least deprived areas of Scotland.

Its head of advocacy, Kate Seymour, said: “Today’s alarming figures re-emphasize the urgent need to make cancer waiting times a priority in Scotland.

“With Humza Yousaf as the new first minister, we are looking forward to seeing the Scottish Government’s new cancer strategy take precedent and focus on tackling this situation, strengthening our cancer workforce in the years to come.”

The report also noted that there had been a welcome reduction in smoking in the country but added: “There remains considerable potential to prevent cancers through further reductions in smoking, reducing overweight and obesity, improving diet and reducing alcohol consumption.”

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Lung cancer remained the most common cancer overall, with 5476 cases diagnosed in 2021. This accounted for 15.5% of all cancers in Scotland, with more cases of lung cancer found in females than in males.

More than three quarters (77%) of those diagnosed with cancer in 2021 were aged 60 or over.

Currently, it is estimated two in five (40%) people in Scotland will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in their life – though this includes some cancers that may have no detrimental impact on life expectancy, such as slow-growing prostate tumours.

Scottish Labour’s health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: “This damning report reveals the damage done by the SNP’s shameful failure to protect cancer services from the chaos of the pandemic.

“These stark inequalities are a national scandal and show the poorest communities are paying the harshest price for the SNP’s failure.

“As cancer cases soared waiting times have stretched, putting lives at risk.

“Humza Yousaf cannot walk away from his failures as Health Secretary – as First Minister he must take responsibility for getting cancer services back on track.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The earlier cancer is diagnosed the easier it is to treat. This is why we continue to invest in our Detect Cancer Earlier (DCE) Programme, which adopts a whole systems approach to diagnosing and treating cancer as early as possible.

“Public awareness campaigns and messaging have run throughout the pandemic to encourage those with possible cancer symptoms to seek help.

“A new DCE public awareness campaign, ‘Be the Early Bird’, encouraging people with possible symptoms to act early, was launched earlier this month. This campaign has targeted areas of deprivation to reduce the inequalities gap.”

The spokesperson continued: “We are also committed to ensuring equitable access to early diagnosis which is why we continue to invest in our Rapid Cancer Diagnostic Services across Scotland, with three live and a further two coming on stream in the next few weeks.

“A new Earlier Diagnosis Vision will be developed as part of the new Scottish Government 10-year Cancer Strategy, with publication planned in spring 2023.

“The new strategy will take a comprehensive approach to improving patient pathways from prevention and diagnosis through to treatment and post-treatment care.

“We remain committed to ensuring equitable access to cancer care across Scotland, through our ongoing ‘Once for Scotland’ approach.”