Cancer in Scotland

Cancer in Scotland is a short report produced my NHS Scotland (by the Information Services division, if you’re interested you can read the full report here.) In 2004 27,000 new cases of cancer were diagnosed in Scotland. 27,000 new cases sounds like a lot, a quick search showed that in 2004 the population of Scotland was 5,078,400. So by my calculations (and I’m no epidemiologist) that means in 2004 about 0.5 % of the Scottish population was diagnosed with cancer.

One set of numbers that struck me was that overall, 2.1 % of men and 2.9 % of women in Scotland are living with cancer at any one time. So how does that fit in with the statistic that “1 in 3″ of us will get cancer?

Well, most people don’t develop cancer until they are older. So right now, I’m a women living in Scotland and I haven’t been diagnosed with cancer, that means I fall into the 97.1 % category, of people without cancer. The 2.9 % figure is just a snapshot at one moment in time (2004, to be precise, that is the most recent statistics available) The “1 in 3″ figure is a lifetime risk, so if I do get cancer when I’m older, then I will fall into the 33 % of the population who has had cancer, at some point, in their lifetime, but as I didn’t have cancer in 2004, I will never fall into the 2.9 % of people living with cancer, in 2004. Something that is good to remember and is often overlooked is that although 1 in 3 people will get cancer in their lifetime, some of those people will be completely cured of their cancer and will live to a ripe old age and die of something completely unrelated to their cancer.

This webpage from Cancer Research UK does a good job of explaining what the “lifetime risk” of cancer really means

However, the trouble with statistics is that they are general and people want to know exactly what will happen to them. As the Cancer Research UK website points out, just because you have a “low” risk of a certain cancer does not mean for sure that you will not get that cancer and the opposite is also true, just bbecause you are at a high risk it is by no means certain that you will develop the disease. John Lennon’s view that “life is what happens when you’re making other plans” certainly seems true here.


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