46 Interesting Facts about Cancer

By Karin Lehnardt, Senior Writer
Published January 16, 2017
  • Several factors increase the risk of cancer (officially known as malignant neoplasm), including pollutants, tobacco use, certain infections, radiation, obesity, and lack of physical exercise.[5]
  • An estimated 5 to 10% of cancers are entirely hereditary. Most cancers develop through a combination of hereditary and environmental factors.[9]
  • Smoking causes an estimated 90% of lung cancer. Tobacco has killed 50 million people in the last decade. If trends continue, a billion people will die from tobacco use and exposure this century, which equates to one person every six seconds.[12]
  • Those who sleep less than six hours a night are more likely to develop colon cancer than those who sleep more.[9]
  • Cancer has two main characteristics: abnormal cell growth and the ability to spread to other parts of the body (metastasis).[9]
  • The nitrites in hot dogs have been linked to cancer
  • Nitrites are chemical additives used to preserve and add flavoring to most lunch meats, including cold cuts and hot dogs. Once in the body, they react with body chemicals and turn into cancer-causing carcinogens. Americans eat more than 20 billion hot dogs per year.[12]
  • In 2008, there were an estimated 12,667,500 new cases of cancer worldwide. Eastern Asia had the most new cases (3,720,000) and Micronesia the fewest (700). North America had approximately 1,603,900 new cases.[8]
  • One in eight deaths in the world are due to cancer. Cancer causes more deaths than AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined.[8]
  • Cancer is the leading cause of death in developed countries and the second leading cause of death in developing countries, after heart disease. Globally, heart disease is the number one killer.[8]
  • In 2008, 7.6 million people died of cancer globally, which equates to 21,000 cancer deaths a day. By 2030, 21.4 million new cancer cases are expected to occur globally with 13.2 million cancer deaths.[8]
  • In 2006, a virus called xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus (XMRV) was discovered in prostate cells, leading scientists to believe the virus may play a role in causing aggressive prostate cancer.[4]
  • The most common cancer in women globally is breast cancer, with an estimated 1.4 million new cases diagnosed in 2008. Breast cancer is also the leading cause of cancer death in women worldwide, with an estimated 458,400 deaths a year.[8]
  • Approximately 15% of all cancers worldwide are due to infections. Undeveloped countries have a higher rate of cancers due to infection (26%) than in developed countries (8%). The microbes most responsible for cancer are the bacterium Helicobacter pylori (gastric cancer), HPV (cervical and other cancers), and Hepatitis B and C (liver cancer).[4]
  • The word “cancer” is related to the Greek word “crab”
  • The word “cancer” is related to the Greek word “crab” because its finger-like projections were similar to the shape of the crab. Galen, a Roman physician, used the word oncos, which is Greek for “swelling.”[5]
  • Researchers believe that more than half of all cancers and cancer deaths are potentially preventable.[12]
  • Lung, prostate, and stomach cancers are the most commonly diagnosed cancers in men. Breast, cervix, and colorectal cancers are the most commonly diagnosed cancers in women.[8]
  • In 2008, cervical cancer was the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in women worldwide. An estimated 529,800 were diagnosed, with over 85% of those diagnosed in developing countries.[8]
  • The earliest description of cancer was found in the Edwin Smith Papyrus dating back to 1600 B.C. It describes what appears to be breast cancer. Though breast cancer was treated by cauterization with a tool called a “fire drill,” the author ultimately wrote, “There is no treatment.”[5]
  • Since February 2009, over 40 million doses of Gardasil have been distributed globally. The FDA and the CDC claim that Gardisal prevents certain types of cervical cancer and that it is safe.[8]
  • An estimated 12,060 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with cancer and 1,240 will die from cancer annually. Childhood cancers represent less than 1% of all new cancer diagnoses, yet it is the second leading cause of death in children, second to accidents.[2]
  • Childhood cancers are the second leading cause of death in children, second to accidents
  • The American Cancer Society estimates 577,190 people will die from cancer in the U.S. per year, or more than 1,500 people a day.[2]
  • As of January 2008, there were approximately 12 million people alive in the U.S. who had a medical history of cancer.[2]
  • Approximately 77% of all cancers are diagnosed in people who are 55 years old or older.[9]
  • The National institute of Health (NIH) posits that the cost of cancer in 2007 in the U.S. was $226.8 billion overall. Globally, the economic impact of cancer is substantially higher than any other cause of death.[8]
  • There are 28 million cancer survivors worldwide.[8]
  • Once I overcame breast cancer, I wasn't afraid of anything anymore.

    - Melissa Etheridge

  • The majority of research shows being overweight adversely affects survival for postmenopausal women with breast cancer. Conversely, postmenopausal women who are more physically active are less likely to die from breast cancer.[2]
  • While many types of cancers have declined in recent years—including cervical, colorectal, stomach, and lung cancers—other types of cancers have been increasing, including HPV-related oropharyngeal, esophageal adenocarcinoma, melanoma of the skin, and cancers of the pancreas, liver, and intrahepatic bile duct, as well as thyroid and kidney and renal pelvis cancers.[8]
  • African Americans are more likely than any other racial group to develop and die from cancer. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have the lowest overall cancer rates.[6]
  • Cancer is not just one disease; rather it is a set of diseases. Different agents cause each type of cancer.[9]
  • Poor dental health can lead to systemic inflammation, which, in turn, increases the likelihood of developing cancer
  • Poor dental hygiene can cause gingivitis, an inflammation of the gums. Over time, high levels of inflammation in the body can increase a person’s risk of developing cancer.[8]
  • Human papillomavrius (HPV) infection is the most common sexually transmitted viral infection and is the causative agent of cervical cancer. Although it is the causative agent, most women who are infected do not develop cancer.[12]
  • Women who have no children or who have their first pregnancy after the age of 30 have a slightly higher risk of developing breast cancer than those who become pregnant while they are younger. Breast-feeding may also reduce the risk of breast cancer slightly.[8]
  • The lifetime risk of a man in the United State of developing an invasive cancer is 45%.[2]
  • Pharmaceutical companies that market successful cancer drugs are some of the biggest corporations in the world. While there is currently a shortage of cancer drugs, only about 10% of the shortages are due to lack of raw materials. Most shortages are due to corporate decisions to cut down on production caused by money or quality problems.[5]
  • Studies have found that Holocaust survivors are at a greater risk for developing cancer, mainly due to intense calorie deprivation and stress during WWII.[11]
  • Approximately 175,300 new cancer cases occurred globally in children up to age 14 in 2008. An estimated 96,400 children died from cancer in 2008.[8]
  • Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., with over 2 million cases of skin cancers diagnosed every year. Many cases could be prevented by protecting the skin from overexposure from the sun and avoiding indoor tanning.[2]
  • Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S.
  • Professor Devra Davis argues that cancer research has been plagued by corporations and politicians manipulating and “fudging” data about cancer-causing toxins such as benzene and tobacco for money. Additionally, she argues that too much of the “War on Cancer” is misdirected by focusing more on treatment rather than on prevention.[5]
  • Some researchers believe that the Pap smear was not implemented until more than a decade after it was proven to prevent cervical cancer because of fears it would undermine the private practice of medicine, leading to unnecessary surgery and death for millions of women.[5]
  • Breast cancer is considered a taboo in many Middle Eastern countries, and many women will not get tested because they fear being examined by male doctors.[5]
  • During a 13.5-hour surgery, physicians were able to pull out a malignant brain tumor from an 11-year-old girl’s nose in Texas.[7]
  • Men who have never married are up to 35% more likely to die from cancer than those who are married. In terms of surviving cancer, women also benefited from being married, but to a lesser extent.[1]
  • Estimated Chernobyl deaths range form 4,000 to half a million
  • Scientists claim that the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl produced the largest group of cancers in history from a single incident.[5]
  • A Massachusetts mother was convicted of attempted murder for withholding cancer medication from her autistic son. He was just 9 years old when he died of leukemia in 2009.[10]
  • Cancer patients have twice the risk of suicide than the general population. Men are more likely to kill themselves immediately after a diagnosis.[3]
  • Henreitta Lacks died of cervical cancer in 1951, but not before scientists at Johns Hopkins took samples of her tumor. Because it was the first instance of a successfully established “immortal” cell line, her cells (now called HeLa cells) have been used in several groundbreaking experiments, including polio vaccines and cloning. However, her story has not been without controversy because neither she nor her family gave permission for her cells to be harvested, and her family never benefited financially. Additionally, a HeLa cells contamination problem almost led to a Cold War incident.[5]
References

1Adams, Stephen. “Wives Saving Husbands from Cancer.” The Telegraph. October 14 2011. Accessed: March 27, 2012.

2Cancer Facts & Figures 2012.” American Cancer Society. 2012. Accessed: March 30, 2012.

3Cancer Patients Have 2x Higher Suicide Risk.” MSNBC. November 9, 2006. Accessed: March 27, 2012.

4Cancer Research Highlights.” National Cancer Institute. September 22, 2009. Accessed: March 30, 2012.

5Davis, Devra. The Secret History of the War on Cancer. New York, NY: Basic Books.

6Emanuel, Ezekiel J. “Shortchanging Cancer Patients.” The New York Times. August 6, 2011. Accessed: March 27, 2012.

7Girls’ Brain Tumor Pulled Out through Her Nose.” 9News. March 29, 2012. Accessed: March 30, 2012.

8Global Cancer Facts & Figures.American Cancer Society. 2011. Accessed: March 30, 2012.

9James, Nick. Cancer: A Very Short Introduction. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2011.

10Mom Kept Meds from Cancer-Ridden Autistic Son.” MSNBC. April 13, 2011. Accessed: March 27, 2012.

11Park, Madison. “Holocaust Survivors at Greater Risk for Cancer, Study Finds.” CNN. November 6, 2009. Accessed: March 27, 2012.

12Pecorino, Lauren. Why Millions Survive Cancer: The Successes of Science. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2011.

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