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By Jeff Cercone October 17, 2022

Cancer study was from data well before COVID-19 vaccines existed

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  • A recent study showed an increase in early onset cancer — cases diagnosed in adults ages 20 to 49.

  • The data analyzed in the study was collected from 2000 to 2012 from 44 countries, involving 14 types of cancers.

  • COVID-19 vaccines, which rolled out in early 2021, do not cause cancer, health experts say.

A recent study showed that there has been a sharp rise in cancer diagnoses in adults younger than 50. A social media user — who apparently didn’t read the study — tried to imply a correlation between that bad news and the COVID-19 vaccines.

A meme shared in an Instagram post Oct. 16 shows a screenshot of a 2021 Reuters fact-check headline which read, "Fact Check-No evidence COVID-19 vaccines cause cancer." Below it is another screenshot, this one a CNN article with the headline, "A global epidemic of cancer among people younger than 50 could be emerging."

The post’s caption read, "I risk being shadowbanned by sharing these types of memes that don’t claim causation but suggest coincidental correlation #BeFreeMySheeple."

The Instagram 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 Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)

The COVID-19 vaccines do not cause cancer, as Reuters reported a year ago. The American Cancer Society said on its website that there’s no evidence the vaccines can cause cancer or cause tumors to grow or recur. The claim that there is a link between the two has nonetheless kept fact-checkers busy

The post’s claim that there is a "coincidental correlation" between the rise in early onset cancer in adults younger than 50 detailed in the CNN article and COVID-19 vaccines is also off base. That’s because the cancer study in the article was based on data collected from 2000 to 2012, years before COVID-19.

The report was authored by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and published in Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology. It looked at global cancer registry records from 44 countries and found a rapidly rising increase in 14 types of cancers, many involving the digestive system.

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Besides examining the data from 2000 to 2012, the team examined available studies about possible risk factors, including early life exposure, and tumor characteristics of early onset cancers to ones diagnosed after age 50.

The report cited increased early screening, and thus early detection, to explain part of the increase. It also said increased early exposure to other common risk factors could explain the spike, including obesity, smoking, alcohol use, sleep deprivation, Type 2 diabetes and unhealthy Western diets high in meat, sugar and processed food. 

The researchers noted something they called the "birth cohort effect," meaning that groups of people born later than another group had increased risk of early cancer because of increased risk exposure at a young age. 

"We found that this risk is increasing with each generation," Shuji Ogino, one of the researchers, said in a press release about the study.

Our rating

An Instagram post implied a "coincidental correlation" between COVID-19 vaccines and a rise in early onset cancers in adults ages 20 to 49.

There is no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines can cause cancer. Meanwhile, the report referred to in this claim about a spike in cancer in people younger than 50 is based on data from 2000 to 2012, well before COVID-19.

We rate this False.

Our Sources

Instagram post, Oct. 16, 2022

Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology, "Is early-onset cancer an emerging global epidemic? Current evidence and future implications," Sept. 6 2022

Brigham and Women’s Hospital, "Cancers in Adults Under 50 on the Rise Globally," Sept. 6, 2022

The Harvard Gazette, "Dramatic rise in cancer in people under 50," Sept. 8, 2022

American Cancer Society, "Can COVID-19 vaccines cause cancer or make cancer grow?," accessed Oct. 17, 2022

CNN, "," 

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

The Associated Press, "Article makes false claims about mRNA vaccines and cancer," March 11, 2021

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, "Fact Check: 7 Myths about COVID-19 Vaccines," accessed Oct. 17, 2022

USA Today, "Fact check: No evidence of cancer spike linked to COVID-19 vaccines," Feb. 17, 2022

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Cancer study was from data well before COVID-19 vaccines existed

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