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Scotland bucks trend with fall in cancer

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by Cancer Research UK | News

7 January 2004

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Scotland has bucked the UK trend by recording a fall in its number of cancer cases, according to new figures released by Cancer Research UK and compiled by the UK Association of Cancer Registries.

While the number of cancers in England and Wales increased, Scots saw their number of cancers fall both in women and particularly in men.

Many cancers are more common in Scotland than the rest of the UK, largely because of the country’s very high smoking rates over the last few decades.

But the new figures show lung cancer is falling faster in Scotland than in the rest of the UK, reflecting its success at persuading people to give up.

According to the new figures, 25,0001 Scots developed cancer in 2000, a decrease of four per cent over the three years since 1997, when cases started coming down. In men, the numbers fell by five per cent over the same time period, while in women they also fell, by three per cent.

In contrast, the number of cancer cases in England rose by six per cent in three years and in Wales by three per cent.

Scotland’s reduction in cancers is largely due to its success at persuading people to give up smoking. Until the early 1980s, Scottish men had among the highest smoking rates in the world, but over the last 20 years Scotland has been one of the world’s most successful countries at persuading people to give up. In 1978, 45 per cent of Scots smoked, but the proportion of smokers has fallen to 31 per cent, with 24 per cent of Scottish men now ex-smokers.

While Scots still have very high rates of smoking related illnesses, they are closing the gap on the rest of the UK. In men, the number of cases of lung cancer fell to 2,446 in the year 2000, a 12 per cent decrease in three years, compared with a five per cent decrease among English men. Oesophageal cancer, which is also smoking related, fell by seven per cent in Scottish men over the same period.

Scottish women saw cases of lung cancer decrease by just half a per cent to 1,948, although in England lung cancer is still slightly increasing in women. Cancer Research UK continues to be concerned at female smoking rates, particularly as more young women take up the habit.

Dr David Brewster, Director of Cancer Registration in Scotland, says: “Keeping track of cancer trends is vital for research into the causes of cancer and to help focus prevention strategies and resources for treatment.

Tobacco is the single biggest cause of cancer and smoking trends are the strongest influence on the numbers of people developing the disease. Scotland has for years had a very large number of smokers, but Scottish men in particular have been giving up the habit and, as these figures show, their health is benefiting.”

Professor Robert Souhami, Cancer Research UK’s Director of Clinical and External Affairs, says: “It’s tremendously encouraging to see cancer rates in Scotland coming down. Smoking related cancers have been the scourge of the country for half a century, but attitudes to smoking are changing in Scotland, with more quitting the habit than ever before.

“There’s no room for complacency though. Scotland’s rates of smoking related cancers are still extremely high and we need to see the downward trend continue for a good few years more.”



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Note to editors:

The release of the new statistics coincides with a House of Lords balloted debate on cancer registration, in which peers will discuss ways of improving access to data on cancer.