Lives have been put at risk, a local MSP has said, after it emerged that early stage cancer diagnosis in the Borders was the lowest in mainland Scotland in the last two years.
Figures published this week show that less than 20 per cent of patients in the Borders with breast, bowel or lung cancer were diagnosed at the earliest stage between 2012 and 2013.
The national average for the same period was more than 24 per cent.
For breast cancer, less than 30 per cent of patients were diagnosed at stage one, nine per cent less than the national average.
The lack of mobile breast screening in the region during large parts of 2012 and through the first seven months of 2013 has been cited as one of the reasons behind the poor early diagnosis figures.
John Lamont MSP said: “The report explicitly states poor detection rates at an early stage could be down to the absence of a screening van.
“That means cancer patients across the Borders are receiving a poorer level of care than almost every other part of mainland Scotland, and ultimately that places lives at risk.”
He added: “It’s not unusual to see screening vans in supermarket car parks across Edinburgh, so quite why those same vans can’t make an hour-long journey to the Borders at any point over an 18-month period is a mystery.”
The statistics also show that the percentage of NHS Borders patients diagnosed with cancer at ‘stage one’ fell between 2010-2011 and 2012-13, from 26.2 per cent to 19.7 per cent.
Just under 500 Borderers were diagnosed with one of the three cancers between January 2012 and December 2013.
Dr Tim Patterson, consultant in public health medicine for NHS Borders, said: “The decrease or relatively low numbers of cancers detected early in 2012/13 reflects the relative increase in the numbers of cancers detected in the previous year.
“This followed the introduction of the bowel screening programme and the substantial increase in detection of stage one breast cancers as the mobile breast screening units were present in the Borders in 2011/12 but not in 2012/13.”
He added: “Detect Cancer Early is an important new programme that increases awareness of the symptoms of cancer and also of the importance of screening programmes.
“I would encourage everyone who receives an invitation for screening to use this opportunity to get screened. It can be a lifesaver.”
An NHS Borders spokeswoman added that the health board has a higher take-up of bowel and breast screening than the national average.