On https://youtu.be/wiAnk3pt-Lc?t=44m00s Curt Ficenec claims that:

If you eliminate cancer, you would only change the average lifespan by 2.5 years

The same claim was made by David Sinclair in https://youtu.be/WglnKCJG9cw

Is that true?

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    That's the nature of averages: It's probably true that eliminating cancer would increase the average life expectancy of all people by only 2-3 years. But the life-years added to people who would otherwise eventually die of cancer would be much greater, diluted by the fact that less than 1% of people die of cancer. – Lee Daniel Crocker Mar 29 '18 at 20:45
  • @LeeDanielCrocker en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_causes_of_death_by_rate : 12.49% of people die of cancer. But yes I agree with your point. – Franck Dernoncourt Mar 29 '18 at 20:49
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    "Only" seems like an odd word choice. Increasing the average lifespan by 2.5 years is enormous. – Chris Hayes Mar 29 '18 at 21:19
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    @ChrisHayes I used the same term as in the quote – Franck Dernoncourt Mar 29 '18 at 21:21
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    @LeeDanielCrocker Some people die young from cancer, but cancer incidence increases sharply with age. So the typical years of life added might be large for a few cancer sufferers but not for most cancer sufferers. – matt_black Mar 30 '18 at 10:09

The actual number of 3.2 years comes from a US Health and Human Services report examining causes of mortality from a period between 1999-2001, and does not include any additional advances in medicine besides simply removing cancer deaths.

Most sources online that make a claim of a certain number of years are ultimately citing a May 2013 paper entitled United States Life Tables Eliminating Certain Causes of Death, 1999-2001.

The report's authors are

The full document is available to download here (publication reference: Arias, Elizabeth, Melonie Heron, and Betzaida Tejada-Vera. "United States life tables eliminating certain causes of death, 1999-2001." National vital statistics reports: from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics System 61, no. 9 (2013): 1-128.).

In particular, we are looking at Table B, titled "Gain in life expectancy at birth due to eliminating specified causes of death, by race and sex: United States, 1999–2001", in the row titled "Malignant neoplasms".

In the section under "Total Population", we see a number of 3.20, for the number of years gained in life expectancy. This is broken down further by gender and by ethnicity, with the number hovering around the 3.20 level for all groups.

There seems to be another report available that comes to a similar results cited as "Olshansky & Carnes, 1990" that could have served as the precursor to this report, but I have not been able to find a copy of it online.

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  • Table C in the report is very interesting. While Table B shows the impact of each cause on the entire population, Table C shows how much longer the people who would have died of various causes would have lived, had that cause been eliminated. People who die of cancer would have lived about 15 years longer if cancer had been eliminated. Causes that tend to cause deaths among younger people show much greater affects. For example, people who die of congenital defects would have lived 53 years longer, and those who die of homicide would have lived 44 years longer. – Mark Mar 30 '18 at 15:30
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    @Mark that's a very interesting chart, and one I didn't even get a chance to look at. It makes sense that homicide (that can strike at any time) and congenital defects (which strike at birth and usually lead to an early death) would have the largest boosts. Simultaneously, their elimination wouldn't increase the average life span too much because they're rarer than other forms of death. – DenisS Mar 30 '18 at 15:58

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