Report sketches cancer scene

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By Jenna Larson 

[email protected]

Since 1991, the University of Iowa College of Public Health has released an annual Cancer in Iowa report while also focusing on a specific cancer. This year’s focus was on liver cancer.
Part of the report tells Iowans about cancer for the current year, said Charles Lynch, the medical director and principal investigator of the State Health Registry of Iowa.

“We projected this year that there will be an estimated 17,400 new cases of cancer among Iowa residents,” said Mary Charlton, a UI assistant professor of epidemiology.

Charlton said the figure is approximately 800 cases more than last year. Cancer isn’t increasing in Iowa based on the projections, but it isn’t decreasing as quickly as projected, she said.

The report also projects 6,200 deaths from cancer in Iowa, slightly down from last year, she said.

In the report, the top 10 cancers expected to be diagnosed in 2017 for both males and females are given projected numbers, she said.

“Breast cancer will have the highest number of cases among females, and prostate will continue to have the highest number of cases among males,” Charlton said.

Other cancers include lung, colon and rectum, bladder, melanoma, and kidney.

The College of Public Health makes these projections three years in advance, Charlton said.

“The second part of the report always talks about some special topic,” Lynch said. “This year, we thought it would good to talk about hepatitis and its association with liver cancer.”

The reason liver cancer and hepatitis was chosen is because there is an epidemic of hepatitis C going on in this country, he said.

“Our rates [for liver cancer] have been increasing primarily because of hepatitis C,” Lynch said.

Now that there is a blood test available for hepatitis C, health-care providers are encouraging people to get screened.

“Liver cancer is more common worldwide than it is here,” Charlton said. “One of the reasons we decided to feature it is because it’s increasing so rapidly and because there’s something that people can do to prevent it from happening, which is to get checked for hepatitis C.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation is that everyone born between 1945 and 1965 should get a one-time screening for hepatitis C, she said. This age group is being targeted to get screened because hepatitis C was common in 1960s and 1970s, when little was known about the disease.

“It’s really the baby boomers who are experiencing the greatest increase in liver cancer,” she said.

Hepatitis C is now treatable and curable. If people can find out they have hepatitis before developing cancer, it can be treated, which could avoid liver cancer, she said.

“Liver cancer is increasing in Iowa, [and] it’s not the most common cancer, but it is one of the most common causes of death, because a lot of cancers are very treatable, whereas liver cancer is not,” said Michael Voigt, a UI clinical professor of internal medicine.

The other key concept is that these are cancer deaths that are preventable, he said. Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are the primary drivers of liver cancer, and both can be effectively treated, he noted.

“It’s not just an Iowa problem, it’s a global problem,” Voigt said. “In 2013, the number of people who died due to hepatitis C was greater than the sum of all the next 59 infectious disease causes.”

Hepatitis C is extremely under-diagnosed, he said. In most cases, people are unaware that they have it and have not been tested for it.

“It will continue to increase for decades if left undiagnosed and untreated,” Voigt said.

“The third part of the report is probably the one that we hear the least about, but we think is important to put out to talk about: that we are doing research with the data that we have in the registry,” Lynch said. “And we also provide information about some of the publications that came out in the prior years that involved registry data.”

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