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Jeff Cercone
By Jeff Cercone December 16, 2021

There’s no evidence of a huge spike in soft-tissue cancers

If Your Time is short

  • There is no evidence of a large spike in soft-tissue cancers. Statistics for the last two years aren’t available, but any increase would likely be part of a continued trend.

  • There is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines cause cancer of any kind.

The anecdotal claim is startling at first glance. An oncologist tells her nurse friend that she is seeing a huge increase in soft-tissue cancers. She then insinuates that it must be due to the COVID-19 vaccine.

But there’s no evidence to support either claim.

A Facebook post claims that one oncologist said that soft-tissue cancers have climbed "through the roof" in 2021, "a 550% increase" and that "we know why it’s happening," which implies it’s related to the COVID vaccines that rolled out early this year.

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.)

In addition to the claim made in a screen grab of another person’s tweet, the poster wrote that "Dr. Ryan Cole has found an increase in cancers since the COVID-19 inoculation rollout," and adds a link to a claim made by Dr. Cole that has been debunked by fact checkers at USA Today and others.

Soft-tissue cancers, or sarcomas, are tumors that begin in tissues such as fat and muscle that support other parts of the body. There are more than 50 subtypes of the cancer, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute estimate that in 2021 about 13,460 new soft-tissue sarcomas will be diagnosed in the United States. In 2020, the projected number of new cases was 13,130. If those numbers prove true, that would be a modest 2.5% increase this year.

Ahmedin Jemal, the American Cancer Society’s senior vice president, Surveillance & Health Equity Science, said in a statement to PolitiFact that "the incidence of soft-tissue cancer in the United States has been increasing gradually before the onset of the COVID-19 epidemic."

Jemal said that incidences increased from 2.5 cases per 100,000 people in 1992 to 3.6 cases per 100,000 people in 2014, before stabilizing. In 2018, the last year for which incidence data is available, there were 3.2 cases per 100,000 people, according to data from the National Cancer Institute.

"Therefore, any anecdotal evidence for the increase in soft-tissue cancer during the past two years is likely to be a continuation of past trends," Jemal said, adding that there can be decades of lag between exposure to risks and a cancer diagnosis. 

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He cited lung cancer as an example, saying most of those cases occur 40 to 50 years after the patients start smoking.

In 2018, the last year data on all new cancer cases is available, the Center for Disease Control said there were 1,708,921 new cases of all forms of the disease. The American Cancer Society projected there would be about 1,899,160 new cases in 2021, after projecting about 1.8 million in 2020.

A spokesperson for the National Cancer Institute said in an email that it has no evidence to support the claim made in the Facebook post, but that the NCI, and other organizations, are concerned that a drop in cancer screenings during the pandemic will have a negative effect on cancer diagnosis and treatment.

The NCI spokesperson pointed to a June interview with its director, Ned Sharpless, published on the American Association for Cancer Research website. Sharpless said that the "pandemic has affected cancer screening in a dramatic way," creating a massive screening deficit that "is going to lead to cancers being diagnosed at later stages."

The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center says in a story on its website about vaccine myths that "there is no truth to the myth that somehow the mRNA vaccine could inactivate the genes that suppress tumors."

Our ruling

A Facebook post implied that an anecdotal spike in soft-tissue cancers is due to the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

However, there is no evidence to support that claim.

There has been a gradual rise in new diagnoses of soft-tissue cancer over recent years, one expert said, and any actual rise this year would likely be due to those continued trends.

There is also no evidence to support the claim from Cole that the COVID vaccines are responsible for overall increases in cancer or other illnesses.

We rate this claim False.

Our Sources

American Cancer Society, email exchange with PolitiFact, Dec. 16, 2021

American Cancer Society, "Key Statistics for Soft Tissue Sarcomas, 2021

American Cancer Society, "ACS Journals, cancer statistics, 2020"

American Cancer Society, "Cancer Facts & Figures 2021"

American Cancer Society, "Cancer Facts & Figures 2020"

American Association for Cancer Research, "Q&A: Ned Sharpless on COVID-19 and Cancer Prevention," June 2021

CDC, "Cancer Statistics at a Glance"

USA Today, "Fact check: False claim that cancer has spiked as a result of COVID-19 vaccines," Sept. 27, 2021, "Video: Idaho Doctor Makes Baseless Claims About Safety of COVID-19 Vaccines," Aug. 27, 2021

Health Feedback, "No scientific evidence for claim by pathologist Ryan Cole that COVID-19 vaccines weaken the immune system," Sept. 27, 2021

Mayo Clinic, "Soft Tissue Sarcoma"

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, "Fact check: 7 myths about Covid-19 vaccines," Dec. 9, 2021

National Cancer Institute, "Cancer Stat Facts: Soft Tissue including Heart Cancer"

National Cancer Institute, email exchange with PolitiFact, Dec. 15, 2021

PolitiFact, "No, getting the COVID-19 vaccine won’t weaken your immune system," Dec. 10, 2021

Reuters, "Fact Check-No evidence COVID-19 vaccines cause cancer," Nov. 12, 2021

Washington Post, "A doctor called coronavirus vaccines ‘fake.’ Now he sits on an Idaho regional health board." Sept. 16, 2021

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There’s no evidence of a huge spike in soft-tissue cancers

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