Poor Scots are most likely to be diagnosed with advanced cancer whereas wealthier patients are more likely to pick up the disease when it is most treatable, new figures reveal.
Nicola Sturgeon announced plans in 2012 to improve early diagnosis by 25 per cent by 2015 but critics said performance had fallen “woefully short”.
The latest figures reveal a rise of just 8 per cent in early diagnosis among patients with lung, breast and bowel cancer since 2010-11.
Poor screening uptake has been blamed for the gulf in early diagnosis rates between rich and poor patients.
Nearly 30 per cent of the poorest patients were diagnosed with stage four cancer while 29 per cent of the most affluent who had their disease picked up at stage one.
It comes after experts were drafted in to examine Scotland’s breast screening programme when it emerged that thousands of women had not been offered routine appointments.
Elspeth Atkinson, Scotland director for Macmillan, said: “If someone is diagnosed early they are more likely to survive cancer and less likely to experience long-term negative effects as a result of treatment.
“It is unacceptable that those from deprived communities are most likely to be diagnosed at the latest stage while those from affluent areas are most likely to be diagnosed at the earliest stage.
“We know those from more deprived communities are less likely to attend cancer screening. Targeted action is urgently needed to improve screening rates among those from more deprived areas.”
There were also significant variations between cancers as breast and bowel cancer patients were most likely to be diagnosed at stage two, while the majority of lung cancer cases were not found until the late stages.
Around 40 per cent of breast cancer patients were picked up at the earliest stage, which fell to 17.9 per cent for lung cancer and 15.4 per cent for bowel cancer.
Conservative shadow health secretary Donald Cameron said: “Nicola Sturgeon, amid great fanfare, announced the Scottish Government was going to increase the rate of cancers detected early by 25 per cent. Now it’s revealed the SNP fell woefully short on this target.”
Health Secretary Shona Robison said: “It will take many years before the full impact of our ambitious Detect Cancer Early programme is realised.
“However we are already seeing improvements in public awareness and attitudes to cancer including an increase in the uptake of bowel screening particularly from those in more deprived areas.”