Is This Trend Really A Trend?

From the AZ Republic

Cancer is skyrocketing worldwide and urgent steps are needed to curtail a catastrophic rise in incidents of the disease, the World Health Organization said in a report this week.

New cancer cases are expected to soar globally from an estimated 14 million in 2012 to 22 million new cases a year within the next 20 years.

Cancer deaths are expected to jump from about 8.2 million to 13 million a year.

I guess my question is, is there really an epidemic of new cancers, or can this be explained by:

  • Better and earlier identification of cancers that always existed but went undiagnosed.
  • A reduction in early death and disease that allows more people to grow old into the years where cancers are common

In both these explanations, increases in cancer diagnoses could easily be, counter-intuitively, caused by improving local medical care rather than any environmental or genetic factor.

The article seems to imply that the explosion is due to environmental and nutrition issues.  I am certainly willing to believe that rising incomes allow more people to smoke, causing cancer issues.  But my guess is that most of this increase is from my two explanations.  Far be it for me to suggest that folks who depend on fear-driven funding of cancer care might exaggerate the scope of the "epidemic".


  1. kidmugsy:

    A radical suggestion, I know, but how about allowing for ageing populations?

  2. Mole1:

    The CNN article on this made clear that the WHO predicts this rise in cancer cases because of longer life expectancies around the world.

  3. smilerz:

    What's the population growth over that time period?

  4. Jesse:

    I'd say it's pretty much axiomatic that if we've radically declined the death rate due to standard causes of death in antiquity (infections, accidents, now-treatable diseases, poor sewage/hygene, etc.) then people are still going to have to die of something. Reminds me of Will Ferrell in Talledega Nights. "98% of people will die at some point in their lives."

  5. Simon Fraser:

    Great news! People are living longer and healthier lives.

  6. mahtso:

    Years ago a book called "The Good News is the Bad News is Wrong" made the point that more people dying of cancer was "good" because of the reductions in early death from other causes.

  7. Elam Bend:

    I always get annoyed when I read some article that decries the worsening environmental situation in America, as if the Cuyahoga was still on fire or LA was as smoggy as it used to be or lead.

  8. Matthew Slyfield:

    So what does Will Ferrell think happens to the remaining 2%?

  9. MingoV:

    Cancer is not skyrocketing worldwide. Cancer _detection_ is skyrocketing. Wealth has increased in many nations. Wealth brings better health care. I will bet that a map showing increased cancer rates will have a nearly 1:1 correlation with a map showing economic growth.

  10. FelineCannonball:

    Population growth, aging populations, sinus and lung cancer growth from dirty urban air in places like China, hepatitis related liver cancer is still increasing, delayed childbearing impacts breast cancer. I'm guessing there are a number of factors involved in a raw number like this.

  11. HenryBowman419:

    The article is basically worthless insofar has providing information is concerned. People who actually study such things (epidemiologists) always adjust observations, to the extent possible, for population size, population age, effects such as fraction of the population that smokes, etc. There seem to be no adjustments in the data reported in this article, thus making the report utterly useless except as a means of scaring people.

  12. HenryBowman419:

    The have seen the rapture and will live forever...

  13. marque2:

    And the detection is now so good - we are treating people for cancers that would go away on their own. The immune system can take care of most cancers and it is now thought everybody gets microcancers now and then

  14. irandom419:

    Similar story I imagine to Autism diagnosis.

  15. John VI:

    These and other kinds of health releated terror stories always reminds me of this joke.
    "Health nuts are going to be seriously PISSED when they get old and find themselves dying of absolutely NOTHING!"

  16. norse:

    Note that incidence rates already control for population growth. One interesting factor is incidence as a consequence of diagnostic methods not because of increased detection but because of increased radiation dose (think "oh, let's order a CT" for things like lower left quadrant pain). There was an article I recently came across (and can't seem to find again, unfortunately) that did a thorough job linking increased cancer rates for lung and breast cancer to number of CTs performed on the individuals in question.

  17. rxc:

    I believe that the radiation dose effect was the cause of the uproar that occurred when an Advisory Committee at NIH recommended a reduction in the frequency of breast cancer mammograms. Even though the doses have been reduced quite a bit, if you buy into the "no safe dose" paradigm, every additional mammogram has the potential to induce a cancer which would otherwise not occur. It is a numbers game.

    Of course, all of the supporters of early detection and treatment immediately had cases of the vapors. So did GE, which sells lots of mammogram machines.

    Old people get cancer at a much higher rate than the young. There are more old people in the world because they are not dying at a young age on account of pregnancy, communicable diseases, or alcohol+automobiles. So, more total cancers. The WHO was created to improve health - the low-hanging fruit has mostly been picked, so they have to invent new scares to justify their existence.

  18. Jeff:

    Growth numbers posed like this are frequently hilarious. A growth from 14 to 22 million over 20 years equates to an annual increase of just under 2.3% (Not so scary anymore). Compared with a population growth rate of 1.1%, you have a very marginal actual incidence increase... likely within the margin of error. With population aging, lower deaths from other causes, and increased detection rates, really the data is saying that cancer rates are not much to worry about.

  19. obloodyhell:

    }}} Is This Trend Really A Trend?

    It's a trend -- but it's a REPORTING trend, not an actual new event.

  20. obloodyhell:

    Showoff. Just because you understand what statistics are and how they work.

    Next thing you'll be telling us the sky IS NOT falling. Yeesh.

  21. obloodyhell:

    Sorta like the March of Dimes, which was initiated to fight polio.

    Lotsa that around nowadays... right?

  22. obloodyhell:

    Strongly arguing that working on methods to properly trigger the immune system to respond to cancers is the key to actually eliminating MOST of them (cancers OF the immune system would still be a problem, rather clearly).

    I'm sure oncologists are working on this, but it's interesting to think about, regardless.

    And also argues for HIV funding, not because the main populace is likely to get it, but because it will inherently lead to a better understanding of the immune system.

  23. obloodyhell:

    Or lake Erie, either.

    So much of the Chicken Little stuff depends on people either having short memories or being too young to have any memory of How Things Have Been Before.

    The same with racism. It really ticks me off how many people throw around the term racist as though 90% of people have really experienced it. Not to suggest in any way that there is not residual racism, and even less so that we need to fight that -- but that there is a serious difference between what used to be and what is.

  24. epobirs:

    Another thing that comes to mind: are the cancers happening everywhere or in particular places. Some of the recent pictures of horrific pollution in China makes me inclined to expect a lot of health issues to follow. But then I expect the leadership there sees it as a practical solution to other problems.

  25. marque2:

    I don't have to worry - I am a Gemini.

  26. Meekrob:

    It's like P.J. O'Rourke said: "Would you rather die of cancer at 80, or typhus at 9?"