For once, I agree with the scary tabloid headlines. BBC is reporting that "modern living" is to blame for the "cancer epidemic."
Well, I do agree, but just a little bit. Modern living is playing a major role in the fact that people are dying of cancer. But that's the deceptive cloud. The important silver lining is that people are living longer and healthier lives and dying from the disease of old-age: cancer.
Before we had the benefits of modern living, which include miraculous life-extending pharmaceuticals, life-saving medical devices, and other benefits of modern technology (i.e., safety technology such as air bags, seat belts, clean water supplies, etc.) people were dying of other things, much younger.
Sure, we could further lower cancer rates if people stopped smoking, avoided excessive sun exposure, and reduced obesity. But the "cancer epidemic" is just not there. In fact, in the U.S. at least, cancer death rates continue to decline, according to the most recent report by the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries, the American Cancer Society, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Maybe things are much worse in Britain, but from the headline, you wouldn't know that U.S. cancer death rates fell for 11 of the 15 most common cancers in men, and for 10 of the 15 most common cancers in women. Rates of colorectal cancer, uterine cancer, stomach cancer, and cervical cancer all continue to fall. And with drugs like Gardasil only now coming online, rates of cervical cancer are expected to drop even more sharply.
This latest scare-report would have been good news if I had my way back in 2004, when I wrote, "If ACSH had a nickel for every time an activist railed against the 'cancer epidemic,' well, we wouldn't have to ask you to contribute" to support our work. So no, there is no cancer epidemic being caused by modern living. The fall in cancer deaths can be attributed to lower rates of smoking, better screening, and more effective treatments.
Jeff Stier is an associate director of the American Council on Science and Health.