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.


Age-adjusted incidence and mortality rates for all cancers (excluding NMSC) by deprivation quintile, for all persons

Main points

In Scotland in 2021:

  • There were 16,438 deaths caused by cancer (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer). Cancer remains the main cause of death.
  • Cancer mortality rates were higher in men than women, due to a combination of higher risk and poorer survival in men.

Over the 10-year period from 2012 to 2021:

  • The age-adjusted cancer mortality rate for all cancers combined decreased by 11%, with a greater decrease in males (14%) than in females (7%).
  • The overall risk of dying from cancer has decreased but the number of deaths due to cancer has increased. This largely reflects Scotland's aging population, and the fact that cancer is more common among older people.
  • The continuing decrease in cancer mortality rates is consistent with long-term trends. Therefore, it appears that the pandemic did not adversely impact cancer mortality rates in 2021.

People living in the most deprived areas were 74% more likely to die from cancer, compared with the least deprived; the incidence rate of cancer did not increase to the same extent.


This publication uses death registration data supplied by National Records of Scotland). 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 for this publication has been delayed. Please contact the Cancer & Adult Screening team for further detail.

General enquiries

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

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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: 18 April 2024
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