The diagnosis of early-stage cancer in Scotland has missed a government target by more than 20%, according to new statistics.
While health secretary in 2012, Nicola Sturgeon pledged to increase the number of diagnoses of breast, colorectal and lung cancers in the first stage by 25% by the end of 2015.
The target was missed – after the figure rose by just 8% – but has fallen further in recent years.
Figures released by Public Health Scotland on Tuesday covering the whole of 2019 and 2020 show an increase of just 3.3% from the baseline – which was made up of figures from 2010 and 2011.
But many cancer screening services were shuttered during the coronavirus pandemic, including for bowel cancer – which is included in the figures.
Over the past two years, 5748 (24.1%) people were diagnosed with the first stage of any of the three cancers – which make up a “significant proportion” of cases in Scotland – with 5998 (25.2%) diagnosed in the second stage.
While 4133 (17.3%) found they had cancer in stage three and 6321 (26.5%) in stage four, the stage of diagnosis could not be identified in 1630 (6.8%) cases.
Meanwhile, the total number of cancer diagnoses fell by 6.2% between 2018-19 and 2019-20.
The statistics came as other Public Health Scotland figures released on Tuesday show that the mortality rates from all combined cancers are 66% higher in the most deprived areas than the most affluent.
Those in the poorest areas are also 28% more likely to be diagnosed with cancer than their rich counterparts.
The figures, from 2019, show 16,366 people died from all types of cancer, up from 16,153 in 2018.
Scottish Liberal Democrats leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “These figures only cover the first few months of the pandemic, yet we are seeing significant falls in the number of patients diagnosed with cancer.
“We know that early diagnosis and treatment is crucial to patients’ chances of survival so this raises enormous red flags for what the full 2020 figures will show.
“The Scottish Government need to undertake rapid work to assess the scale of the challenge. Then we need fresh funds and resources, coupled with a timeline for meeting cancer waiting times targets, to ensure that the knock-on effects of the pandemic do not do even more damage to people’s health.”