Thousands of Scots may have missed out on cancer treatment or could have the disease but have not been diagnosed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Macmillan Cancer Support said its analysis of cancer waiting times figures suggest about 2250 people who should have started treatment between April and September did not.
In addition, the charity also claims as many as 4300 people in Scotland could be living with an undiagnosed cancer.
Macmillan’s head of policy in Scotland, Kate Seymour, said: “It’s extremely worrying that there are so many people missing from the cancer care system.
“Delays in diagnoses can lead to unnecessary deaths, as well as people facing more serious treatments that leave them with long term health issues.”
The charity is now calling for health secretary Jeane Freeman to commit to protecting cancer services despite the recent rise in coronavirus cases.
Macmillan wants ministers to pledge there will be no redeployment of cancer staff within the NHS, no delays to scans, surgeries or other treatments, and no pausing in screening programmes.
‘Don’t put off an appointment that could save your life.’Kate Seymour, Macmillan Cancer Support
Cancer screening services are now running again after being put on hold earlier this year when coronavirus hit Scotland.
Almost 400,000 checks for bowel, breast and cervical cancer were delayed during the pause.
In April, chief medical officer Dr Gregor Smith revealed there had been a 72% drop in urgent referrals for cancer – although this has now improved.
Ms Seymour said Macmillan has “always recognised the huge challenge coronavirus has posed to the NHS and how hard health professionals have worked”.
But she added: “While cancer treatment continued in many cases, there was also considerable disruption to some treatment and blanket cancellation of screening.
“Seven months on from the beginning of the pandemic, people with cancer must be assured that lessons have been learned and cancer services won’t face this kind of disruption again.
“The Scottish Government has pledged to protect cancer services but we now need to see this translate into action on the ground.”
She stressed: “It’s also vital that anyone who has any symptoms of cancer contacts their GP as soon as possible.
“Don’t put off an appointment that could save your life.”