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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Iowa Issues Annual Cancer Report, Highlights Obesity-related Cancer

An estimated 6,300 Iowans will die from cancer in 2018, 18 times the number caused by auto fatalities, according to a new report released Tuesday by the State Health Registry of Iowa, based in the University of Iowa College of Public Health.

Lung cancer will continue to be the most common cause of cancer death for both males and females and will be responsible for about 1,640 – or approximately one out of every four – cancer deaths in Iowa, according to “Cancer in Iowa: 2018.”

The annual report also projects an estimated 17,800 new cancers will be diagnosed among Iowa residents this year. Breast cancer will remain the most common type of cancer diagnosed among females, while prostate cancer remains the most common type among males.

“Overall, the number of new cases of cancer per year in Iowa are remaining flat,” says Dr. Mary Charlton, assistant professor of epidemiology at the UI College of Public Health. “In the past couple of years we projected greater decreases in prostate cancer cases as a result of the 2012 United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF ) recommendations against prostate-specific antigen (PSA) screening, but we haven’t seen big declines. This suggests PSA testing practices in Iowa have not substantially changed, despite the recommendations of the USPSTF.”

Researchers are also not seeing the decreases in lung cancer cases they anticipated. According to Charlton, this probably reflects the fact that smoking rates in Iowa are no longer declining at the rate that they were a decade ago.

The report, based on data from the Iowa Cancer Registry and the Iowa Department of Public Health, is available online in the “publications” section on the registry’s website or by calling the registry at 319-335-8609. The report includes county-by-county statistics, summaries of new research projects, and a special section focused on obesity-related cancer.

While most Americans are aware that obesity increases the risk for numerous health problems including heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, only half of Americans are aware that obesity is a major risk factor for cancer.

According to the report, scientific evidence exists linking excess body weight to higher risk of several types of cancer including colorectal, thyroid, uterine, ovarian, esophageal adenocarcinoma, kidney, pancreatic, liver, gastric (cardia), gallbladder, post-menopausal breast, malignant meningioma, and multiple myeloma. This is not meant to imply that all cases of these cancers were actually caused by obesity.

Dr. Andrew Nish, interventional radiologist and director of the John Stoddard Cancer Center in Des Moines, says obesity is a major risk factor for many types of cancer. “Obesity, poor nutrition, and a lack of physical exercise may contribute to up to one-third of cancers,” he says. “With 39.8 percent of Americans being obese and another 34 percent being overweight, this represents a large segment of the population at higher risk for developing cancer. Overweight and obesity represent a public health crisis and any cancer-prevention strategy must include effective weight-loss strategies.”

The exact explanation for the relationship between obesity and cancer risk remains unclear, but it is known that fat tissue is highly active, producing large amounts of hormones like estrogen, insulin, and insulin-like growth factors. High levels of these hormones have been linked to certain types of cancer.

“Cancer research is vital if we are to continue reducing the burden of cancer for the people of Iowa and beyond,” says Dr. George Weiner, director of Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Iowa. “This research needs to include evaluation of the best ways to encourage and support a healthy lifestyle, such as avoiding obesity, as well as research into the biology and therapy of cancer.”

The State Health Registry of Iowa has been gathering cancer incidence and follow-up data for the state since 1973.