An Epidemic of Cancer? Nope.

Oh boy. So this headline is spinning around the world today: Cancer cases are expected to double by 2030, according to a UN agency. What agency? Why, the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

This is a classic piece of epidemiological sleight of hand - as the article points out, the increase is largely due to 1) people living longer, worldwide (the older you get, the greater your risk of developing one cancer or another), and 2) the worldwide population increasing from 6 billion now to perhaps 9 billion by 2030.

So this isn't in fact what a quick scan of the headline would imply - that there's some alarming upswing in cancer rates (that is, per capita cancers over a certain period of time). It's simply an increase in the overall prevalence in cancer rates, for demographic rather than disease related reasons.

So it's a dramatic headline that really has little drama behind it. But given that it comes from an agency on cancer research, makes me wonder if there's not an implicit bid for a little more research money.

Thomas GoetzComment