WOMEN are more likely to die from breast cancer within one year of diagnosis in Scotland than in mainland Europe, a leading clinician has warned.
Dr Hilary Dobson, who chairs Scotland's National Cancer Quality Steering Group, said the number of women who survive five years with the disease is on a par with the best countries on the continent.
However, she said Scottish women were more likely to die within 12 months of discovering they have the illness than their European counterparts.
Speaking ahead of a major international breast cancer conference in Glasgow this week, Dr Dobson said: "What we have seen in Scotland is very similar to what we are seeing south of the Border. The UK has been tarnished with having poor survival rates from cancer in general.
"If you look at the information coming out of Europe, if you separate out our survival in the first year following diagnosis and compare it with the rest of Europe, we do not do very well. Our survival rates are poorer historically."
The latest figures, released at the end of February by the widest study of the European Cancer Registry - known as Eurocare - show survival rates a year in older women in Scotland a year after diagnosis were about 3% behind the European average.
Dr Dobson, a consultant radiologist in Glasgow and lead cancer clinician for the west of Scotland, said no single factor had been identified to explain this difference. She also said the data reflected the period 2002-2007, so survival rates may have improved. However, she continued: "We did think there was some evidence that patients were presenting later [here] and therefore with more advanced disease.
"Early deaths can be due to a percentage of more advanced disease at first diagnosis."
The Scottish Government has already embarked on a campaign to detect more cancers early, and in 2012 an advertising campaign featuring Elaine C Smith and real breasts with visible signs of cancer saw a large surge in women coming forward for checks.
Dr Dobson said the next stage would encourage women aged 50 to 70 to take up the offer of regular mammogram screening, adding: "If we are going to find these early cancers our best chance of doing, that is to find them before women are aware of symptoms."
Health boards are being primed to open extra clinics to help cope with an expected surge in demand.
Breast cancer screening is controversial because for all the women whose lives are saved, there are more who have cancers detected and treated that are so tiny they may never have been a threat to their health.
Dr Dobson said an independent review had concluded screening should continue because it was not possible to determine with certainty which of the cancers were harmless.
James Jopling, Director for Scotland at Breakthrough Breast Cancer said: "Early detection is one of the key factors in improving survival rates for breast cancer. Campaigns such as Detect Cancer Early are important to raise awareness but we need to evidence the long-term impact of breast cancer diagnoses before we can see its true worth."
However, Moira Adams, trustee of charity Challenge Breast Cancer Scotland, said: "I am totally against the way screening is promoted by the government. It is a very difficult decision for a woman to make and I do not think it is the job of the Scottish Government to persuade women to go for screening. They should be giving them all the information to make a decision themselves."
The Ninth European Breast Cancer Conference, the largest forum of its kind, is taking place at the SECC from Wednesday until Friday. It will be followed on Saturday by a free open meeting for members of the public to hear about the latest advances in breast cancer care and treatment.