Misconceptions About Environmental Pollution, Pesticides and the Causes of Cancer

Studies | Environment

No. 214
Sunday, March 01, 1998
by Bruce N. Ames and Lois Swirsky Gold


Misconception #1: Cancer Rates Are Soaring

Cancer death rates overall in the U.S. (excluding lung cancer due to smoking) have declined 16 percent since 1950.1 If lung cancer is included, mortality rates have increased over time, but recently have declined in men due to decreased smoking.

  • The types of cancer deaths that have decreased are primarily stomach, cervical, uterine and colorectal.
  • The types that have increased are primarily lung cancer (90 percent is due to smoking, as are 35 percent of all cancer deaths in the U.S.), melanoma (probably due to sunburns) and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

"Cancer death rates overall (excluding lung cancer) have declined 16 percent since 1950."

The rise in incidence rates in older age groups for some cancers, e.g., prostate, can be explained by known factors such as improved screening.2 As one study noted, "The reason for not focusing on the reported incidence of cancer is that the scope and precision of diagnostic information, practices in screening and early detection, and criteria for reporting cancer have changed so much over time that trends in incidence are not reliable."3 Life expectancy has continued to rise since 1950.


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