Scotland’s health service could be “overwhelmed” by rising cancer cases, a charity has warned.
Cancer Research UK projected that if current trends continue, the number of cancers diagnosed in Scotland could rise from 34,100 a year to 42,100 by 2040.
It also projected that, over that period of time, annual deaths could rise to 19,100 – up 17% from the current total of 16,400.
Analysis by the charity suggested in total there could be 703,000 new cases of cancer and 321,000 cancer deaths in Scotland between 2023 and 2040 – with more than three fifths (61%) of cases and over three quarters (76%) of deaths taking place amongst those aged 70 and above.
The health charity released the figures ahead of World Cancer Day on February 4.
And it said that while cancer survival rates have improved for many forms of the disease, an increase in the age of patients means more people with a higher risk will develop the disease, and that more survivors will need follow-up care, with more patients left with complex needs.
To deal with this, Cancer Research UK said action was needed now from the Scottish Government.
Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, Professor Charles Swanton, said: “Right now, the health service in Scotland is just about treading water.
“By the end of the next decade, if left unaided, the NHS risks being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of new cancer diagnoses.
“It takes up to 15 years to train an oncologist, pathologist, radiologist or surgeon.
“The Scottish Government must start planning now to give patients the support they will so desperately need.”
Prof Swanton added: “I’m hopeful that through investment and reform in the health service and advancements in research, future numbers of cancer cases might not be as high as these projections warn.
“But if the Scottish Government doesn’t act now to prepare for this demand, there’s a risk that our hard-fought progress in cancer survival could go into reverse.”
According to Cancer Research UK, the number of people diagnosed with kidney cancer in Scotland every year is projected to increase 161% between 2017-2019 and 2038-2040, going from around 1,200 cases a year to around 3,200.
Over the same period, the number of Scots diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer is projected to rise by 81%, from around 1,400 a year to around 2,500.
Meanwhile, annual deaths from liver cancer are projected to go from around 600 to around 1,100 between 2018-2021 and 2038-2040 – a rise of 86%.
Male deaths from prostate cancer are projected to rise by 38% over this period, from around 1,000 a year to around 1,400.
Faced with that, Cancer Research UK is calling on the Scottish Government to invest more in staff and equipment for the NHS.
It also said action was needed to change the way cancer is detected and diagnosed, so the disease is picked up earlier when it is more treatable.
Cancer Research UK’s senior external affairs manager for Scotland, Andy Glyde, said: “Years of chronic shortages in staff and equipment in cancer services must be addressed to cope with demand today and in the future.
“The Scottish Government’s forthcoming cancer strategy must set out how we can transform the way we detect, diagnose and treat cancer to ultimately save more lives.
“To do this, properly funded actions are essential to address workforce gaps and transform cancer services for the future.”
He added: “This World Cancer Day we are calling on the Scottish Government to commit to transforming Scotland’s cancer survival from world-lagging to world-leading and prepare our cancer services for the challenges of the future.”
Labour health spokesperson Jackie Baillie said the “terrifying report” from Cancer Research UK “must be a wake-up call” for ministers.
She added: “We are facing a ticking time bomb of cancer cases, but the Health Secretary doesn’t seem to grasp the urgency.
“Cancer waiting times are getting worse and worse, and the SNP haven’t met their 62-day treatment standard in over ten years.
“We need a real cancer catch-up plan and we need it now.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “While more people are being diagnosed with cancer, more people are also being cured and living longer with the illness, thanks to the many new and established treatments now available.
“The increasing numbers of cases is also a simple reflection of the fact that people are, overall, living longer.
“We are determined to ensure cancer is diagnosed as early as possible, and the new ten-year cancer strategy, due to be published in spring 2023, will look at improving patient pathways from prevention and diagnosis through to treatment and post-treatment care.
“It includes a new earlier diagnosis vision for Scotland as well as a robust workforce strategy.”