Public Health Scotland has today published an annual update of cancer incidence statistics in Scotland, which show an overall increase in cancer diagnosis numbers in 2021 following the COVID-19 pandemic and highlight continuing inequalities in cancer occurrence.

Using data from the Scottish Cancer Registry, the report shows 35,379 new cancers were diagnosed in 2021, an increase in 5.5% compared to pre-pandemic levels in 2019, with over half (54%) of all malignancies (excluding non-melanoma skin cancers) being lung, breast, bowel and prostate. Lung cancer remained the most common cancer overall, with 5,476 cases diagnosed in 2021, accounting for 15.5% of all cancers in Scotland.

The report states that from mid-March 2020, COVID-19 had a huge impact on all aspects of cancer control in Scotland. After the initial disruptions in 2020, 2021 saw higher numbers of cancer diagnoses, driven by a period of catching up along with long-term increases in the size of the older population in Scotland, who are more at risk of the disease.

Inequalities that were present pre-pandemic have continued, with the report stating the overall risk of developing cancer in 2021 was 30% higher in the most deprived compared with the least deprived areas of Scotland.

Reflecting on the statistics published today, Dr David Morrison, Director of the Scottish Cancer Registry at Public Health Scotland, said:

“Today’s report is important in helping gauge the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as Scotland continues on the path to cancer services recovery. It helps inform our understanding of cancer prevention and the services needed to diagnose and treat cancer.

“It is a reminder that there are opportunities to prevent cancer, such as promoting further reductions in smoking, reducing overweight and obesity, improving diet and reducing alcohol consumption. I would encourage anyone who is offered a cancer screening test to take it, and if you are worried about your health – don’t put off calling your GP.”

View the Cancer Incidence and Prevalence in Scotland report.



Last updated: 28 March 2023