Cancer Assertion

I was listening to the radio over the weekend, and someone was talking about the increase in cancer over the past 100 years. When asked why this was so, the person stated that it was because people are living longer, and that “if you live long enough, and don’t die from something else, you will eventually succumb to one form of cancer or another”.

I had to think about what he said. I think he meant that as you get older your risk for getting cancer increases, and that if you don’t die from heart disease or something else, when you reach some age, say 90 years old, you will inevitably get cancer, and it will probably kill you.

Really? This seems like a gross generalization since there must be humans who have lived to age 100 or older, that never had a cancer cell in their bodies.

As we humans increase our lifespans is it really inevitably that we are going to get cancer, or are some people just “immune” from getting it?

Cancer rates absolutely increase with age, as the risk of getting a mutation (just from cells dividing and have an error introduced when the DNA is copied) in a gene that can lead to the cell becoming cancerous increases the more times cells divide. Its just a function of probability. Cancer is a disease of the elderly and tends to be terminal as many elderly folks don’t want or can’t handle treatment.

So yes, as you age the risk of getting cancer increases.

This link may be of interest:

It’s not, so far as we know, inevitable that any individual will get cancer, if they live long enough.

But it’s certainly the case that, the older people get, the more likely they are to get cancer. Therefore, across the population, as longevity increases, the proportion of the population who gets cancer will rise.

The way I’ve always heard it stated was “If you live long enough you’ll either die of heart failure or cancer,” but it’s basically the same message.

I’m too lazy to do a lot of Googling on this, but I’m pretty sure that there at least two independent causes of increased cancer risk and mortality. Clearly age is a factor, and while life expectancy at any advanced age is not significantly higher than in it was a hundred years ago, statistical life expectancy at birth is higher because of medical advances, so more people are surviving into old age and succumbing to those diseases to which old age is vulnerable.

But I’m pretty certain that environmental factors are also significant, by which I mean things like air and water pollution, and foods that are highly processed and/or contain potentially unhealthy or harmful additives. By “water pollution” I don’t necessarily mean drinking water although that can happen (see “Erin Brokovitch”) but rather the effect on seafood that we all consume by the increasing prevalence of heavy metals. Lifestyle factors that contribute to lack of exercise probably don’t help, either. But I think the increasing toxicity of our general environment is pretty clearly a factor. If we had not had to basic wisdom to ban some of the most egregiously harmful products, like leaded gasoline, we would probably already be succumbing to the cumulative effects of lead poisoning.

As I understand it, people are getting “little” microscopic cancers all the time, but most of them are cleaned up by the immune system long before they can spread or do any harm.

Anyone who lives long enough is increasingly likely to die of something. The younger you die, the less likely this is to happen.

I had an uncle who was fond of advising: If you eat peanut butter sandwiches for 120 years, you’ll live to a ripe old age.

The total death rate from all causes always totals 100%. If you reduce the chance of death from some causes, the total chance of death from the remaining causes must increase to make up the difference.

Many of the advances in medicine, public health and public safety have affected things that can kill people when they’re young. We don’t have smallpox any more. People don’t die of diphtheria or cholera in countries that have functioning public health systems. Cars are safer than they used to be. It’s less common to die of tuberculosis than it once was. Death from industrial accidents is less common. There are many more examples.

Since deaths from these causes have declined, death from other causes must go up for the total death rate to be 100%. One of these other causes is cancer. The odds of getting cancer increase with age. So, yes, if you live longer your chances of getting cancer (and of dying from it) increase.

By the way, the statement that

is a tautology. Everyone dies of something, so if you don’t die from some other cause you have to die of cancer.

Drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes are one of the main reasons people get cancer. Yes, older folks are more prone to getting cancer, but if they never drank alcohol or smoked cigarettes their chances are much lower, even with advanced age. I have read that using deodorant for many years may cause breast cancer, but also I’ve read that it doesn’t. If you are suspicious of something that you think may cause cancer, it may be best not to use it.

Also known as “natural causes”.

My family doctor tells me that since he started giving statins to all his elderly patients (most of them since he stopped taking new patients 20 years ago or more), they have stopped dying of heart attacks. So they mostly die of cancer.

Incidentally, his best guess on the efficacy of statins is not the cholesterol lowering effect, but that they calm inflammation.

I’ve read that aliens control the world economy through the British royal family. It’s not true either, but I’ve read it.