About this release
This release by Public Health Scotland (PHS) provides an annual update of cancer incidence statistics in Scotland from January 1997 to December 2021. All cancer types are included. Generally, cancer incidence statistics should be interpreted within the context of long-term trends. However, examining cancer incidence in 2021 against expected rates is important to assess the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent recovery.
Update 13 June 2023: To support the new cancer strategy that will be released by the Scottish Government in Summer 2023, PHS has been asked to publish a new Excel file containing counts and percentages for sixteen cancers broken down by stage and SIMD 2020 deprivation quintile.
This file provides baseline data for the strategy and maintains the commitment of PHS and the Scottish Government to transparency in the production of national statistics. The Excel file has been added to this release. The data are derived from the same extract taken from the Scottish Cancer Registry that was used for all other analyses in this report. No corrections or updates have been applied to these data. This table will be released with all future cancer incidence publications, with accompanying commentary in the report.
*Note truncated y-axis.
- In 2021, Scotland was in the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic with continued disruptions to normal life. Overall, cancer diagnoses increased not only compared with lower numbers in 2020 but also compared with the pre-pandemic period.
- There were 35,379 new cancers registered in Scotland (17,600 male; 17,779 female) in 2021 (an increase of 5.5% compared with 2019). This is in-line with a long-term trend of increasing number of cancer diagnoses over time.
- The rate, or risk, of new cancers also increased to 644 per 100,000 (an increase of 3.1% compared with 2019) and was higher than expected from the long-term trend. This may be a feature of health services catching up with diagnoses that were deferred from 2020, and because the pre-pandemic trend of decreasing rates did not continue in 2021.
- The most common cancers in Scotland in 2021 were lung, breast, bowel and prostate, accounting for over half (54%) of all malignancies (excluding non-melanoma skin cancers). While welcome reductions in smoking prevalence have occurred in Scotland, there remains considerable potential to prevent cancers through further reductions in smoking, reducing overweight and obesity, improving diet and reducing alcohol consumption.
- The overall risk of developing cancer in 2021 was 30% higher in the most deprived compared with the least deprived areas of Scotland. The issue of under-diagnosis in 2020 had largely been resolved by 2021 but in more deprived areas, there was evidence of this persisting to some extent for certain cancer types (e.g. breast and bowel cancer).
The Scottish Cancer Registry (external website) collects information on every cancer in Scotland and uses the data to inform cancer control. Cancer registrations are believed to be essentially complete for the year 2021, but it is important to note that the cancer registration database is dynamic. "All cancers" by convention excludes non-melanoma skin cancers.
Cancer incidence reflects risk factors for developing cancer, efforts to detect cancer (e.g. public awareness, screening programmes and the impact of the pandemic on diagnosis pathways) and the at-risk population (which is increasing due to an ageing and expanding population).
The next release of this publication will be 16 April 2024.
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