About this release

This release by Public Health Scotland presents data on patients diagnosed with cancer during the two-year period 1 January 2019 to 31 December 2020. This is a data only release pending the publication of a planned revision to incorporate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on 2 November, which can be seen in the number of diagnoses below.

Main points

  • In 2019 and 2020 there were 23,830 patients diagnosed with breast, colorectal or lung cancer, down from 25,412 in 2018 and 2019, an overall 6.2% drop in the numbers of cases.
  • For people with breast, colorectal or lung cancer, 24.1% were diagnosed at the earliest stage (stage 1). This is a relative increase of 3.3% from the baseline, 2010 and 2011, which falls below the Local Delivery Plan standard of a 25% increase.
Image caption Number of patients in Scotland diagnosed with breast, colorectal or lung cancer by quarter – January 2018 to December 2020


Cancer is one of the major causes of death in Scotland. In 2019, more than 34,000 people were diagnosed with cancer, excluding non-melanoma skin cancer, and over 16,000 people died of cancer in Scotland. 

In February 2012 the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing formally launched the Detect Cancer Early programme. One aim of the Detect Cancer Early programme was to increase the proportion of people diagnosed with early stage disease (stage 1) by 25% by the end of 2015 concentrating on breast, colorectal and lung cancers, which collectively account for a significant proportion of all cancers diagnosed in Scotland.

To help monitor performance towards the Detect Cancer Early Local Delivery Plan standard, the proportion of patients diagnosed at an early stage of disease (stage 1) for year 9 (2019 and 2020 combined), is compared with that of the baseline (2010 and 2011 combined).

The percentage of patients with cancer diagnosed with stage 1 disease can vary because of a number of factors including the presence and uptake of national screening programmes.

The DCE figures provided use the Quality Performance Indicator (QPI) audit information, rather than the Scottish Cancer Registry. Therefore, these figures are not directly comparable to PHS’s cancer incidence publication and are subject to change in future publications, as submissions may be updated to reflect a more accurate and complete set of data from NHS Boards.

Following additional quality assurance, a planned revision and publication showing the impact of the pandemic on cancer staging compared with data from pre-pandemic will be published on 2 November 2021.

Further information

A planned revision to incorporate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will be available on 2 November.

General enquiries

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