About this release

This publication from Public Health Scotland (PHS) provides some brief interpretations of the risk factors that cause cancer and changes in survival for the most common causes of cancer death. While interpretation of cancer mortality statistics should always be within the context of long term trends, these statistics provide an opportunity for cancer mortality to be considered within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Main points

In Scotland in 2020:

  • There were 16,184 deaths from cancer (excluding non-melanoma skin cancers).
  • The number of deaths has increased over the last decade. This is largely because the number of older people, who are at greater risk of developing cancer, has increased and as such the number of cancer cases increased.
  • However, in that same time period, the overall risk of dying from cancer (the age-adjusted cancer mortality rate) has fallen by 11% (13% for males and 7% for females).
  • The continued fall in cancer mortality in 2020 is in line with long-term trends.
Image caption Cancer mortality in Scotland, 1995-2020. Number of deaths and age-adjusted mortality rate
  • Lung cancer continues to be the most common cause of death from cancer in Scotland (3,874 deaths in 2020). Nearly a quarter of all deaths from cancer in Scotland are attributed to lung cancer which is more than double that of colorectal cancer, the next most common cause of death from cancer.
  • Of the most common cancers, liver cancer had the biggest increase in mortality rates in the last decade (38%). Survival from liver cancer is poor in most cases. The main risk factors for liver cancer are obesity, alcohol and infection with hepatitis B and C viruses.
  • Considering all cancers combined, mortality rates were 78% higher in the most deprived areas compared with the least deprived. The most deprived areas have incidence rates that are 34% higher than the least deprived areas. This suggests that a combination of higher incidence and poorer survival from cancer in more deprived areas contribute to the excess mortality from the disease.


This publication uses death registration data supplied by National Records of Scotland (NRS). This release includes information broken down by age group, sex, NHS Board and regional cancer network. Summary tables and charts on cancer incidence and mortality by deprivation category are also updated for 28 types of cancer.

When using this publication, it is more informative to examine trends in mortality over a number of years, rather than focussing on a single year of mortality. In the case of rare cancers, striking changes from one year to the next are likely to reflect random fluctuation caused by small numbers of deaths and may be misleading.

Further information

The next release of this publication will be 25 October 2022.

General enquiries

If you have an enquiry relating to this publication, please email phs.cancerstats@phs.scot.

Media enquiries

If you have a media enquiry relating to this publication, please contact the Communications and Engagement team.

Requesting other formats and reporting issues

If you require publications or documents in other formats, please email phs.otherformats@phs.scot.

To report any issues with a publication, please email phs.generalpublications@phs.scot.

Older versions of this publication

Versions of this publication released before 16 March 2020 may be found on the Data and Intelligence, Health Protection Scotland or Improving Health websites.

Last updated: 21 March 2024
Was this page helpful?