Original article (in Slovenian) was published on 18/01/2024; Author: Martin Justin
The authors of a 2010 study published in Nature Reviews Cancer conclude that the evidence gathered so far points to a much lower incidence of cancer in the past compared to today.
On 16 January 2018, the Megasvet website ran an article with the headline Shocking discovery: scientists find cancer is a man-made disease! They cited a study in which scientists from the University of Manchester looked at the incidence of cancer in Ancient Greece and Ancient Egypt.
The post was re-posted on their Facebook page on 31 December last year. Since then, 89 people have shared it on Facebook.
The study referred to by Megasvet was published in the scientific journal Nature Review Cancer in 2010 and its authors presented written and archaeological evidence of the existence of cancer in Ancient Greece and Ancient Egypt.
They concluded that the evidence is scarce if one compares it to the modern prevalence of cancer. There are other explanations for the absence of evidence of cancer in antiquity, but they do not think these can satisfactorily explain the large difference in cancer rates between then and now.
Megasvet correctly stated that the study authors conclude that the evidence to date points to a much lower incidence of cancer in the past compared to today, which may be “related to the prevalence of carcinogenic factors in modern society”.
But nowhere in the study did the authors claim that cancer is caused exclusively by man-made factors.
In a brief response to criticism of the study published by the same journal in 2011, the authors even stressed that the study does not claim that cancer is a purely man-made disease, but that the rarity of the disease in the distant past shows that human interventions in the environment have contributed significantly to its incidence.
Megasvet also ran statements by the two authors of the study, published by the University of Manchester in a 2010 article on its website. The first author, A. Rosalie David, for example claimed that “There is nothing in the natural environment that can cause cancer. So it has to be a man-made disease, down to pollution and changes to our diet and lifestyle.”
As the Ljubljana Oncology Institute explained to Razkrinkavanje.si, cancer is the generic name for a diverse group of conditions whose main characteristic is the uncontrolled growth of cells. They point out that “we do not (yet) know of a clear and reliable reason for the occurrence of cancer, but most cancers are the result of the interaction of various factors to which an individual is exposed over a long period of time.”
The body has its own defence mechanisms to fight mutations that cause uncontrolled cell growth, they added, but these can be weakened or disrupted by environmental factors such as cancer-causing chemicals, smoking, radiation, exposure to the sun’s rays and certain infections.
They estimate that up to 40% of the most common cancers could be prevented by taking primary prevention measures such as giving up smoking, eating healthily and avoiding excessive sun exposure. Between 5% and 10% of cancers are hereditary.
That cancers used to be much rarer in earlier historical periods was also the conclusion of a study published in 2021 in the scientific journal Cancer. After analysing 143 skeletons from six medieval cemeteries around Cambridge, the authors found that between 9% and 14% of those who died in medieval England had cancer at the time of death.
For comparison, the authors cite a 2015 study which found that Britons born after 1960 had a more than 50% risk of cancer.
Megasvet, which is run by Mihael Miholič, a sole trader, bills itself as a portal that publishes, among other things, daily local and international news. However, it is not registered in the national media register.
We have brought our findings on the status of Megasvet to the attention of the Ministry of Culture, which is responsible for the Inspectorate for Culture and Media. The ministry has not yet responded to our questions. We will publish a response when we receive it.
On 15 January, we informed Megasvet about the findings of Razkrinkvanje.si. They responded that they have corrected the article accordingly. While they have not changed the headline, they have substantially changed the content of the article. They no longer claim that cancer is man-made, but state that “scientists now have evidence to suggest that modern lifestyles are a major contributor to the development of cancer.”
They also removed a quote from the study’s author, A. Rosalie David, in which she claimed that there is nothing in the environment that can cause cancer.
The website has not specifically tagged the corrections to the text, so the publication date is still 16 January 2018.
We have also shared our findings with the first author of the study, A. Rosalie David. We will publish her response when we receive it.
The claim that scientists have discovered that cancer is a man-made disease is not true.
After we brought our findings to the attention of Megasvet, they corrected the content on the website, but not the article headline. Because the headline no longer reflects the content of the article, we have flagged it as click bait.