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Member Research and Reports

State Health Registry of Iowa Issues 2017 Cancer in Iowa Report, Highlights Increase in Liver Cancer Cases

An estimated 6,200 Iowans will die from cancer in 2017, according to a new report released today 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 1,670 – or approximately one out of every four – cancer deaths in Iowa, according to “Cancer in Iowa: 2017.”

The annual report also projects an estimated 17,400 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. The 2017 estimate for new cancers is about 800 more cases than last year’s estimate and reflects recent data showing that cancer incidence has not been falling as quickly as researchers projected.

“Each year our projections are based on data from three years prior because of the time it takes to collect and verify data on cancer cases and their treatment and outcomes.” says Dr. Mary Charlton, assistant professor of epidemiology at the UI College of Public Health. “Last year we projected the number of breast and colorectal cancer cases would continue to decline rapidly based on trends from previous years. Unfortunately more recent data has suggested a much slower decline, possibly due to an increase in risk factors such as obesity, as well as an aging population.”

According to Dr. Charlton, similar adjustments were made to other cancer types resulting in a higher total number of cases compared to last year. “There remains a great need for continued research and initiatives surrounding cancer prevention, screening, and treatment of cancer,” she says.

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 liver cancer.

Liver cancer is the 13th leading cause of cancer deaths in Iowa. However, unlike most other common cancers, both new cases of and deaths from liver cancer are on the rise in Iowa and throughout the U.S.

The rate of new liver cancer cases in Iowa has roughly tripled over the past 35 years, from 2 cases per 100,000 people in 1975-1979 to 6 cases per 100,000 in 2010-2014.

Dr. Michael Voigt, clinical professor of internal medicine, and a specialist in gastroenterology and hepatology at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, says that chronic infections of hepatitis B or hepatitis C are the major risk factors for liver cancer and these infections are correlated with the increase in the number of cases.

“Liver cancer is predominantly due to hepatitis B or hepatitis C infection, and chronic viral hepatitis ultimately causes more deaths than breast cancer, heart failure, or prostate cancer,” Dr. Voigt says. “Deaths from hepatitis C are at an all-time high and the number of cases in people under 30 years of age is increasing dramatically in Iowa.”

However, Dr. Voigt notes that because there is a vaccination for hepatitis B and effective treatment of both hepatitis B and C, liver cancer is highly preventable. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone born between 1945 and 1965 be tested for hepatitis C,” he says. “It is a silent killer and the majority of people with hepatitis C are unaware of it.”

While most cases of liver cancer prove to be fatal, national data shows that in recent years deaths have been increasing slower than new cases. Iowa data shows a similar trend but has lower rates overall, possibly due to earlier detection and improvements in treatment of chronic hepatitis.

Dr. George Weiner, director of Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Iowa says that researchers consider the disease from all angles in order to reduce the number of cancer deaths.

“Cancer prevention, early detection, and therapy are all important as we seek to reduce the burden of cancer, including liver cancer,” Dr. Weiner says. “We are continuing to make progress through research in all of these areas.”

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