August 30, 2021

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.

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.

This fact check was originally published by PolitiFact, which is part of the Poynter Institute. It is republished here with permission. See the sources for this fact check here and more of their fact checks here.

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Ciara O'Rourke is a contributing writer for PolitiFact. Previously, Ciara covered local government and public safety for the Austin American-Statesman and fact-checked elected officials and…
Ciara O'Rourke

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