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Quackery Promoters are Wrong.
With Some Exceptions,
Cancer Death Rates are Declining

Elizabeth M. Whelan, Sc.D., M.P.H.

A study published in Cancer, the journal of the American Cancer Society [1], reports findings that confirm what the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) has long held: that the incidence and overall death rates from cancer have been declining in the United States. ACSH's position on U.S. cancer rates was set forth in detail in it 1995 booklet, "Update: Is There a Cancer Epidemic in the United States?" [2]

The false claim that cancer rates are rising is a favorite of quackery promoters who want to undermine public trust in food companies, drug companies, chemical manufacturers, and the medical profession. ACSH's 1995 report concluded that, with a few exceptions -- primarily lung cancer (caused by cigarette smoking), melanoma (a skin cancer related to overexposure to sunlight), and AIDS-related cancers -- there had been little overall increase over the previous 40 years in either the number of new cases reported or the number of cancer deaths. Furthermore, over the same period the number of deaths caused by many forms of cancer actually decreased.

The combined report just released from the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and others confirms what ACSH scientists concluded nearly three years ago: that the incidence rate for all cancers combined is declining. ACSH's 1995 report also concluded that better detection and screening were probably responsible for the fall in breast and prostate-cancer death rates -- a conclusion that Dr. Richard Klausner, director of the National Cancer Institute, echoed at a recent press conference. The Cancer article also supports previous ACSH statements that (a) rates of lung cancer incidence and mortality match nearly perfectly to the pattern of smoking in the United States; and (b) the increase in melanoma mortality is caused mainly by the overexposure of fair-skinned individuals to the sun.

Most cancers are related to lifestyle factors. Among the proven causes of cancer are tobacco use, poor diet, alcohol abuse, ionizing radiation (x-rays, for example), certain sexually transmitted diseases, certain reproductive patterns, and sunlight. Chemicals in our food and the environment do not have a significant impact on overall cancer risk in the United States. If environmental factors such as pesticides and industrial pollution played a prominent role in cancer causation, cancer rates would be escalating. Instead, we are seeing decreases in death rates for most forms of cancer. And, thanks to earlier detection and/or improved treatment methods, survival rates for many cancers have improved.

For Additional Information

  1. Landis SH and others. Cancer statistics, 1998. CA -- A Cancer Journal for Clinicians 48:6-29, 1998.
  2. Mayer DA and others. Update: Is There a Cancer Epidemic in the United States? New York: American Council on Science and Health, 1995.
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Dr. Whelan is President of the American Council on Science and Health and author of The Complete Guide to Preventing Cancer: How You Can Reduce Your Risk (Prometheus Book, 1994).

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This article was posted March 27, 1998.