Survival rates for some common cancers in Scotland are only now on a par with the levels achieved by Sweden and Norway decades ago, according to a new analysis.

Charity Macmillan warned that cancer care across the UK is "at breaking point" as it highlighted the comparatively poor performance across all four nations compared to the Nordic countries.

More than 35,000 people in Scotland are diagnosed with cancer every year, with incidence projected to rise sharply over the next 15 years as the population ages.


The charity used the most up-to-date available data to evaluate five-year survival for common cancer types in Scotland, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland and how long ago these benchmarks were reached in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark.

On prostate cancer, it found that Scotland was lagging 15 years behind Sweden with a five-year survival of 85.7% - the lowest in the UK.

In Sweden, five-year survival for the disease had already exceeded 89% by 2002-2006, and currently stands at 95% in both Sweden and Norway, and 90% in Denmark.

For colon cancer in males, there was a five-year lag with the five-year survival rate in Scotland averaging just under 60% compared to 73.2% in Denmark, 70% in Norway, and 69.4% in Sweden.

For colon cancer in females, there was a 10-year lag with the survival rate at five years in Scotland was around 60.6% compared to 72.7% in Denmark, 71.7% in Norway, and 70.6% in Sweden currently.

On breast cancer, 86.2% of women diagnosed in Scotland were still alive five years later but in Sweden, five-year survival had already exceeded 90% by 2007-2011.

Currently, the five-year survival is 92.5% in Sweden, 90.8% in Norway, and 90.3% in Denmark.

Five-year survival for cervical cancer in Scotland - at 65% - compares to nearly 77% in Denmark currently, while Norway had already reached 66% by 1992-1996.

The NHS faces pressure from an increasing incidence of cancerThe NHS faces pressure from an increasing incidence of cancer (Image: Getty)

Health policy and the NHS are devolved, meaning that whichever party is elected to form the new UK government on July 4 will be directly responsible for healthcare in England - which has similar statistics.

However, Macmillan stressed that the result of the General Election "will impact elements of cancer care right across the UK", for example through policies on welfare benefits and consequential funding for the devolved governments.

It comes as the SNP prepares to launch its manifesto today. 

Labour previously pledged “fewer cancer deaths” by doubling the number of state-of-the-art scanners to improve early detection rates. 

The Conservatives have promised increased investment in technology and facilities, as well as recruiting 92,000 additional nurses and 24,000 new doctors for NHS England. 

The LibDems said they would guarantee that all cancer patients start treatment within 62 days of an urgent referral, partly by recruiting more cancer nurses and replacing older scanning machines. 

The Green Party has said it will reduce waiting lists by increasing the NHS budget by £28 billion a year by 2030.  

Reform UK has pledged to cut taxes for frontline NHS staff to boost retention, run operating theatres at weekends, and make more use of the private sector. 

The NHS is devolved, but Macmillan said that the outcome of the General Election would impact health services UK-wideThe NHS is devolved, but Macmillan said that the outcome of the General Election would impact health services UK-wide (Image: PA)

Gemma Peters, CEO for Macmillan Cancer Support, called on the next UK Government to "revolutionise" cancer care as a priority.

She said: “Behind today’s shocking data are thousands of real people whose entire worlds have been turned upside down by cancer.

"Helping people with cancer live longer is important but so is the quality of their lives.

"They shouldn’t have to spend their days worrying about delays to their treatment or how they’ll be able to afford the petrol or bus fare they need to get to their next appointment; cancer is enough to have to deal with.

“It’s clear that cancer care is at breaking point but this is a political choice and better is possible.

"Cancer has led the way in changing the healthcare system for the better before, with Macmillan driving the creation of Cancer Nurse Specialists to ensure patients are treated by professionals with the right skills and expertise, and by developing groundbreaking digital assessments to ensure every person diagnosed has the best chance of receiving the care and support they need.”