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Report shows new studies and statistics for cancer in Iowa

BY LAUREN COFFEY | MARCH 25, 2013 5:00 AM

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Even as the death rate from cancer drops in Iowa, University of Iowa officials continue research to discover cancer-causing genes.

The State Health Registry released its annual cancer report for Iowa last week, and officials say while the numbers seem consistent, it is important to look at the age-adjusted statistics.

“The number of deaths is staying about the same, but more people are getting older,” said George Weiner, the director of the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center. “You have to adjust for that factor that people in Iowa are getting older than they used to be.”

The projected number for cancer deaths in Johnson County is 155, compared with a projected 400 deaths in Linn County and 35 in Iowa County.

To help improve the cancer rates further, the State Health Registry is working on roughly 60 different studies focusing on various cancers and aspects to understanding the cancer.

“Some of these [studies] aren’t necessarily for finding a cure,” said Michele West, the coordinator of special studies at the Cancer Registry. “We’re trying to find more on the genes, and we study them to see those results.”

One study conducted by the registry concentrating on the genes is the WeCare study, which looks at genes in breast cancer, specifically in women who have had breast cancer in both breasts a year apart. The annual cancer report states breast cancer is one of the cancers that has had an overall decrease in its death rate.

“We’re asking, ‘Is there a genetic basis for this,’ ” said Charles Lynch, the medical director of the registry and a UI professor of epidemiology. “They get treated with chemotherapy and radiation — carcinogens that cause cancer. Radiation affects repair genes, and we’re looking at if they have a defect in those repair genes.”

Lynch said the Cancer Registry is a resource that allows such cutting-edge studies to take place.

“The registry has been quite valuable,” he said. “There are hospital-based studies, and that’s a problem, because it can carry a bias. The beauty of a statewide registry is you can go back to 1973 and follow the patients for their survival.”

One study that would have been extremely expensive to conduct without the help of the registry, Lynch said, is the agricultural health study.

The study looked at the effects of long-term agriculture exposure to things such as pesticide and its correlation with cancer. The study includes roughly 58,000 subjects in Iowa.

“It costs millions of dollars to use this data, so it should be used,” Lynch said. “We’re trying to use the data to improve the health of the public.”

Weiner said as long as people are willing to invest in cancer research, it is important to continue doing it.

“If others continue to invest in cancer research, we’ll continue to look for a cure,” he said.


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