Page last updated at 14:08 GMT, Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Liver disease killing more Scots

Man drinking pint
Deaths from alcohol-related liver disease are rising faster in Scotland

Scotland's top doctor has revealed that the number of deaths from alcoholic liver disease has overtaken those from heart attacks in some deprived areas.

In his annual report the chief medical officer said Scotland had one of the fastest growing mortality rates for chronic liver disease in the world.

Dr Harry Burns also warned of a rise in cases of cancer.

However, he said 5,000 lives a year could be saved if Scots took simple steps to lead healthier lifestyles.

Dr Burns' third annual report, published on Tuesday, focussed on the main causes of death in Scotland and how to prevent them.

Deaths from liver disease now account for one in 50 of all Scottish deaths, at a time when the rate in most Western countries is falling.

The report predicted that if current trends remain unchanged the number of cases of bowel cancer could rise by almost 50%, from 3,412 a year in 2005 to an average of 5,116 a year during 2016-20.

I would urge Scots to think of cancer as a disease that is to a great extent preventable
Dr Harry Burns
Chief medical officer

Over the same period the number of cases of prostate cancer is projected to rise from 2,420 to 3,207 - an increase of 33%.

Cases of breast cancer in women are projected to rise by 22%, going from 3,998 a year in 2005 to 4,886 during 2016-20.

While deaths from bowel and breast cancer are expected to remain relatively stable, the number of people dying from prostate cancer is expected to increase by 58%.

Dr Burns said: "Coronary heart disease, stroke and cancer are the biggest causes of death in Scotland.

"Deaths from alcohol-related liver disease in Scotland are rising faster than almost anywhere else in the world.

"Tragically thousands of Scots are dying from these conditions years earlier than they should."

The chief medical officer added: "I estimate around 5,000 lives could be saved in Scotland each year if we followed simple steps to avoid known risk factors."

Fruit and veg
Dr Burns said eating fruit and veg could help reduce your risk of cancer

Dr Burns also stressed that not all cases of cancer were "inevitable".

To coincide with his report he has recorded a cancer prevention podcast which is available on the Scottish government website and includes advice on screening and how to reduce your risk of developing the disease.

He said: "Lives can be saved if people know how to help prevent cancer.

"There is now mounting evidence to show you can take steps to prevent some cancers - everything from eating your five fruit and veg each day and not smoking to avoiding sunburn.

"I would urge Scots to think of cancer as a disease that is to a great extent preventable."

Cancer charities have welcomed the chief medical officer's comments and podcast.

People must take advantage of screening programmes and visit their GP if they have symptoms that are causing them concern
Elspeth Atkinson
Macmillan Cancer Support

Elspeth Atkinson, director of Macmillan Cancer Support in Scotland, said: "We support people affected by cancer every day and so we know the devastation a diagnosis can cause.

"Avoidable factors such as smoking and sunburn can contribute to cancer and we would urge people to make healthy lifestyle choices where ever possible.

She added: "While the numbers of people diagnosed with some cancers are rising, as cancer treatments improve, people are also more likely to survive.

"Early detection is also a factor in this and people must take advantage of screening programmes and visit their GP if they have symptoms that are causing them concern."

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