Get PolitiFact in your inbox.

Ciara O'Rourke
By Ciara O'Rourke August 27, 2021

No, cancer and heart disease deaths didn’t disappear during the pandemic

If Your Time is short

  • COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death after cancer and heart disease in 2020 in the United States, according to provisional federal mortality data.

A claim being shared on social media beneath an image of a cowboy is all hat and no cattle. 

"Might as well resume smoking," the post says. "No one has died of cancer or heart disease since the COVID-19 thing started." 

One post sharing the image was published on Facebook in August 2020. But it wasn’t true then, and it isn’t true now. 

This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

Let’s start with cancer.

According to the World Health Organization, cancer accounted for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020 worldwide. Breast cancer was the most common new case that year, followed by lung cancer, and colon and rectum cancer. This statistic also appears in a February cancer journal article about cancer mortality in 2020. 

Featured Fact-check

According to the National Cancer Institute, the federal government’s main agency for cancer research, cancer is the leading cause of death across the globe. By 2040, the number of new cases is expected to rise to 29.5 million each year, and the number of cancer-related deaths to 16.4 million. 

The agency’s most recent annual report, published in 2021, only looks at data up to the year 2018. But overall, cancer death rates in the United States decreased 2.2% per year on average among adult men and 1.7% per year among women. 

The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2021 there will be more than 608,000 cancer deaths. There’s an important caveat: that estimate doesn’t account for the effect the COVID-19 pandemic "has likely had on cancer diagnoses and deaths," because the projections are based on reported cases and deaths through 2017 and 2018.

In England, according to an August 2020 Lancet article about how the pandemic could affect cancer deaths, "substantial increases" in the number of avoidable deaths "are to be expected" thanks to people delaying medical care that could have identified and led to cancer treatments for patients sooner. 

As for heart disease, it’s the leading cause of death for men, women and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 655,000 Americans die of it each year. 

COVID-19, meanwhile, was the third most common cause of death in the United States in 2020, according to provisional mortality data from the National Vital Statistics System. It caused about 375,000 deaths here in 2020. The leading cause of death was heart disease, killing 690,000 people, followed by cancer, which killed 598,000 people.

We rate this post Pants on Fire.


Our Sources

Facebook post, Aug. 14, 2020

World Health Organization, Cancer, March 3, 2021

CA, Global cancer statistics 2020: GLOBOCAN estimates of incidence and mortality worldwide for We 36 cancers in 185 countries, Feb. 4, 2021

National Cancer Institute, Annual Reporter to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 2021

American Cancer Society, 2021 estimates, visited Aug. 27, 2021

American Cancer Society, Facts & Figures 2021 reports another record-breaking 1-year drop in cancer deaths, Jan. 12, 2021

The Lancet, The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cancer deaths due to delays in diagnosis in England, UK: a national, population-based modelling study, Aug. 1, 2020

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Heart disease in the United States, visited Aug. 27, 2021

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Provisional mortality data — United States, 2020


Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Ciara O'Rourke

No, cancer and heart disease deaths didn’t disappear during the pandemic

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up