Cancer rates are increasing in the USA–another myth debunked

One of the enduring zombie tropes of the junk science world is that cancer rates are increasing in the USA (and across the world), and that deaths from cancers are higher today than it was in the past. Depending on the one screaming this myth, this rate of cancer increase is a result of A) vaccines, B) GMO crops, C) pasteurized milk, D) non-organic foods, or E) everything.

To be certain, there are a few things that do cause cancer, like smoking, UV radiation, human papillomavirus, and obesity. There are no 100% guaranteed environmental risks that cause cancer (lots of smokers do not get lung cancer, and there are very rare cases of non smokers getting the same cancer).

But are cancer rates increasing?

Here and there, you might run across a study that mentions one thing or another may or may not increase or reduce the risk of cancer. But most of those studies are one-off primary research, usually using small groups, providing little clinical evidence that you may or may not be able to increase or decrease the risk of cancer. Wait until we can find these studies in large systematic reviews, before deciding that this or that may or may not increase or decrease the risk of cancer.

In the meantime, Joe Mercola certainly can make boatloads of money making such nonsense cancer claims. If he were the only one, we could ignore him, but a quick search of the internet produces millions (I kid you not) of websites pushing miracle cancer cures or prevention.

Let’s go find out what the evidence tells us about the cancer rate. Are there are any real peer-reviewed articles that do a careful analysis of cancer rates over 100 years in the USA?

Without much effort, I found one with the obscure and complex title of, “The decline in US cancer mortality in people born since 1925.” The paper by Kort et al., and published in Cancer Research in late 2009, reviewed data reported by the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, was obtained from WHO Statistical Information System (WHOSIS). They examined the incidence (rate) and mortality from various cancers from individuals born in 1925 and after.

What the authors found was that rate of cancer in each age group is holding roughly constant. However, since society as a whole is aging, overall cancer incidence is increasing slightly–remember, our average life expectancy has skyrocketed since the 1920’s from approximately 57.1 years for someone born in 1929 to 78.7 years for someone born today (pdf). That means more cancer events happen to people who used to die long before cancers appeared 100 years ago.

© Cancer research, 2009. All-site cancer mortality rates at different ages by decade of birth. Mortality rates for 40 to 79 year olds are plotted stratified by age and plotted by year of birth.
© Cancer research, 2009. All-site cancer mortality rates at different ages by decade of birth. Mortality rates for 40 to 79 year olds are plotted stratified by age and plotted by year of birth.

Well, the results are pretty clear. The rates of cancer for each age cohort appears to be flat, slightly increasing, or slightly decreasing. Overall, across all age groups, the cancer incidence is nearly flat (although the numbers are higher because the US population is larger and older than it was 60 years ago).

And look at kids 0-9 years old. You know, the ones who get vaccinated. No change in cancer incidence over 60 years. None. Those who proclaim loudly that immunization somehow weakens the immune system, and they become riddled with cancer–about as untrue as the sun revolves around the earth.

The authors looked at mortality rates over that period of time, and they found that:

[Cancer] mortality has been systematically decreasing among younger individuals for many decades. … the cancer mortality rates for 30 to 59 year olds born between 1945 and 1954 was 29% lower than for people of the same age born three decades earlier.  … substantial changes in cancer mortality risk across the life span have been developing over the past half century in the United States. … this analysis suggests that efforts in prevention, early detection, and/or treatment have significantly affected our society’s experience of cancer risk.

Furthermore, if you look at these data carefully, the decrease in cancer mortality, coupled with the constant incidence, means that there are more people surviving after a cancer diagnosis.

Yes, as a result of modern science-based medicine, we have reduced the mortality of cancer substantially. And maybe, because more people survive after a cancer diagnosis, there is an observational bias that makes one think that there is more cancer.

Broad claims that cancer has increased are simply untrue. More people do have cancer, and this may be personally observed, but the incidence is flat, and the mortality is down.

If you listened to the junk medicine pushers, vaccines, GMO foods, non-organic vegetables, chemtrails, and whatever else, all added together, would have shown a huge increase in the rate and mortality of cancer. We haven’t. If you’re a woo-pusher, don’t use this argument, it’s insane. Use other insane arguments, that I’ll have to debunk, because I enjoy writing about debunking your insanity.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in March 2014. It has been completely revised and updated to include more comprehensive information, to improve readability and to add current research.

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  • Guest

    So basically cancer rates have stayed flat. Wow, thanks science for all the progress you’ve made lowering those rates. Not.

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  • EFHerne

    According to the U.S. Public Health
    Service & Vital Statistics of the United States in the year 1900 only 64 out of every 100,000 people got cancer. That’s 1 in every 32,000.

    Today the rates have skyrocketed, and 1 out of 4 of us will definitely get Cancer, with the rates dropping quickly to 1 in 3. And of those people who get cancer, 1 in 3 of those will DIE from the disease. Considering U.S. President’s have defied the odds and NOT died from Cancer since 1885, not only are these figures suspect, THEY’RE DOWNRIGHT CRIMINAL.

    • Skeptical Raptor

      Yes because in 1900, we had advanced diagnostic tools. Apparently, medicine hasn’t increased in technology. Oh, and how many kids died of vaccine preventable diseases, which may have skewed the numbers. Or what constituted cancer 100 years ago is different today.

      As for your conspiracy theory? HHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. What a maroon.

      • EFHerne

        Vaccines are a myth. “Bargain basement medicine of the 20th century…” according to Dr. Maurice Hilleman. The man who helped put the SV-40 Cancer virus in polio vaccines, and helped bring AIDS into the country.(PBS Interview Boston)

        Are you a child? Laughing in all caps isn’t really very grown up. Also, if you’re going to call someone a “moron” you should really spell it correctly.

        • Gord Bestwick

          Put your foil hat back on and go home. Seriously, if you actually believe what you’re writing you actually need a doctor. I mean that, not as a jab as a sincere comment. If you genuinely believe that vaccines cause cancer and you believe all of that other stuff, you need to see a clinical psychiatrist.

          • Skeptical Raptor

            Foil hats cause cancer. Didn’t you know that?

            He’s still a maroon.

        • PalitoN1

          Is it a myth that smallpox completely disappear from the whole planet? Guess why, vaccines. Also measles, polio, difteria, tetanus and other diseases, reduced dramatically, guess why? Vaccines

          • Skeptical Raptor

            Don’t be using real history and science here. You might scare off the antivaccine cult. :)

  • Posy

    My sister died of cancer 54 years ago, my mother 27 years ago and my last sister last year and nothings change, I sat by and watched them all suffer, all die miserably and no different. So you can’t tell things have gotten better, the last two had chemo, radiation all these great devised drugs and methods to no avail. I don’t believe there is a cure for cancer or ever will be a cure for cancer. I’ve known more people die of cancer in the last two years than I have for my whole life. Something stinks with this article, its either written by big Pharm, Big Ag or some big business slug that is trying to mislead us into believing everything is just fine.

    • Skeptical Raptor

      Excellent anecdotes. Except they mean nothing relative to the whole story.

      Real population statistics tell us that you’re full of shit. Thank you for playing.

      • Posy

        Your full of shit and you know it Big Business Advocate Slug.

        • EFHerne

          Yes. “Skeptical Raptor” is probably one of those “sock-puppet” propaganda promoters trained/paid for courtesy the U.S. Military. From a March 2011 article in The Guardian…

          “Revealed: US spy operation that manipulates social media…

          Military’s ‘sock puppet’ software creates fake online identities to spread pro-American propaganda…

          The US military is developing software that will let it secretly manipulate social media sites by using fake online personas to influence internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda….an “online persona management service” that will allow one US serviceman or woman to control up to 10 separate identities based all over the world.”

          So any time you run into a die-hard bully spreading go-go-America & her bigpharmabullshit propaganda know this: the fool is probably being PAID to harass you. Ignore them and SEEk Truth YOUR way.

          • Doom Shepherd

            Batshit insane people are SO much fun.

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    • EFHerne

      What goes around comes around…when you snub your nose at illness and deny compassion to those who’ve suffered, you are destined to have the same fall unto you.

      This is KARMA.

      • Skeptical Raptor

        There is no such thing as karma. So, you believe in magic? Good to know. I accept science. Therein lies the difference between your ignorant self and me.

        • EFHerne

          I believe in quantum & particle physics, laws of gravity, the unified field theory, and singularities. In those disciplines “biophotons” were discovered….organic living particles of light or ‘aura.’ Our DNA sheds 100s of billions per second, as do we. If you study just a tad on Einstein you’d have learned karma is very real, except science calls it Consciousness. It affects all experiments, studies, research and outcomes. It cannot be explained–just like the placebo effect. But they continue to use placebos to this day to test new pharmaceuticals, which usually fail against it because of our Consciousness is more powerful.

          If you will it, those thoughts (frequencies) will send signals to your cells, then to your DNA will spontaneously change to match the environments & thoughts you have perceived. Then your anatomy’s frequencies will change to match the signal your DNA and cells now maintain, thereby drawing in the same back to you with others. Two magnets must be of the proper frequencies to attract. Bad people very rarely keep good people around because their channels or frequencies are too different. It’s physics and it’s FUCKING KARMA.

          If all you left brain hypercritical people would bother to study more than what was spoon fed to you, no one would need to spoon feed the principles of quantum physics, gravity or energy now.

          • Doom Shepherd

            That’s so much nonsense that it makes me want to quote “Billy Madison.” So I shall: “Mr. [EFHerne], what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.”

          • Skeptical Raptor

            Since EFHerne doesn’t know what a “maroon” is (well other than a color), he’s probably going to think that Billy Madison is a paid off CDC researcher who’s hiding the real evidence for 9/11. Or something.

          • Mr. Z

            Although I agree that most of the reason for increased cancer rates is that people are living longer, the graph shows a general moderately increasing trend within the age groups. I suspect levelling and even decrease in some age groups is related to healthier living practices, like stopping smoking.

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