A woman receives a Covid-19 vaccine at a pharmacy in Paris on October 19, 2022 ( AFP / Christophe ARCHAMBAULT)

US pathologist falsely claims Covid-19 vaccines causing cancer

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Health authorities around the world say the benefits of the Covid-19 vaccines far outweigh the known risks, but a pathologist from the US state of Idaho claims in a series of interviews shared on social media that the shots are linked to an uptick in cancer. This is false, according to medical experts and a leading cancer treatment hospital.

"300% increase in cancers!!" says text over a video shared November 22, 2022 on Instagram.

The clip features Ryan Cole saying: "I was the first pathologist in the world to say, 'Guys, we're seeing an uptick in cancers.' That toxic spike protein has so many mechanisms that allow cancers to wake up."

Screenshot of an Instagram post taken December 5, 2022

The interview comes from "Died Suddenly," a film amplifying multiple debunked claims about Covid-19 vaccines.

Cole is a board-certified dermatopathologist who has been the subject of multiple complaints to the Washington Medical Commission, including from two patients who say he misdiagnosed them with cancer. He has also faced complaints to the Idaho State Board of Medicine.

Cole has falsely linked the Covid-19 vaccines to cancer since at least 2021. He echoed his claims linking the shots to cancer in interviews with the Epoch Times, a website that has previously published vaccine misinformation, and "Ask Dr Drew," a program that has featured multiple anti-vaccine advocates.

But multiple medical experts say there is no evidence linking Covid-19 vaccines to cancer, and note that a rise in cases is likely explained by delays in screening during the pandemic.

John Sweetenham, associate director for clinical affairs at the University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center's Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, said that while 2021 reports show an increase in new cancer diagnoses, the rates are between five to 15 percent.

"I have seen no data to suggest a 300 percent increase and there is no evidence that the increase in cancer diagnosis has any connection to Covid vaccination," Sweetenham told AFP in a December 6, 2022 email.

He added: "This increase is because many people delayed cancer screenings or work-up of symptoms because of concerns of visiting health care facilities at the height of the pandemic."

In an Instagram post refuting "Died Suddenly," epidemiologist Katrine Wallace also pointed to the disruption of in-person assessments and cancer screenings during the pandemic.

AFP asked Cole for data to back his claims, but a response was not forthcoming.

No changes to DNA

It is a myth that the Covid-19 vaccines can cause cancer, according to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, a prominent treatment center in New York City.

"None of the vaccines interact with or alter your DNA in any way, and therefore cannot cause cancer," the institution says on its website.

The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines use messenger RNA (mRNA) technology -- but it does not change DNA, as AFP has previously reported.

Spike protein

In another interview shared in several Facebook posts, Cole claimed: "We know that that spike protein can induce cancer pathways, period, it's happening."

Screenshot of a Facebook post taken December 6, 2022

But Sweetenham, who is also chair of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) Board of Directors, said: "I am unaware of any data that suggests that the spike protein can induce cancer."

Jonathan Laxton, an internal medicine physician from the Canadian province of Manitoba, explained in a TikTok video that Cole erroneously references studies that examined the spike protein of the coronavirus itself, not the one generated through vaccination.

Laxton also said the claim that cancers are showing up within a month or two following vaccination is "biologically implausible." Oncologist David Gorksi noted in a blog that exposure to carcinogens can take years or decades to produce the kinds of tumors Cole references.

"Cancer has not been linked to the Covid-19 vaccines and Ryan Cole is not telling the truth," Laxton said.

Shots recommended to cancer patients

Large studies have demonstrated that patients with cancer are at high risk for complications from Covid-19.

Cancer Care Ontario recommends that people with cancer "get all doses of Covid-19 vaccine that they are eligible for as soon as they can." Similarly, the US NCCN strongly recommends "that people with cancer get all their Covid-19 shots, including 3 primary doses and any recommended boosters, as soon as possible."

This recommendation is supported by the American Cancer Society, which says on its website: "There is no information that suggests that Covid-19 vaccines cause cancer. There is also no information that suggests these vaccines can make cancer grow or recur (come back)."

According to the Canadian Breast Cancer Network, the main concern for cancer patients is that if a person is immunocompromised the vaccine may not be as effective as it would be for healthy individuals.

More than 83 percent of Canada's population has received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. Health Canada monitors adverse events following vaccination, and no safety signals related to cancer have been identified.

More of AFP's reporting on vaccine misinformation is available here.