Cancer briefing focuses on HPV


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Experts in the oncology field met in an annual cancer briefing on Monday to discuss the cancer growth in Iowa. Officials predict more than 17,000 new cases of cancer will arise in Iowa in 2014. Additionally, researchers focused on the prevalence of the human papillomavirus.

Charles Lynch, the medical director of the statewide cancer directory and a University of Iowa professor of epidemiology, spoke at the event about the estimated number of new cancer diagnoses and deaths.

According to the report, an estimated 3,400 Iowans will die from cancer this year. Of those deaths, breast cancer and lung cancer are the leading culprits.

“Because they’re common, they’re important,” Lynch said. “Lung cancer, by far and away, is the No. 1 cancer [leading to] death.”

The briefing, “Cancer in Iowa: 2014,” followed a 24-year tradition by the State Health Registry of Iowa to inform Iowans of past cancer cases as well as future predictions for the disease.

“In public health, prevention is key,” said Bill Barker, the marketing and community outreach coordinator for the UI College of Public Health, in an email. “Briefings like this one for ‘Cancer in Iowa 2014’, [is a way] to pass knowledge on to the public that will help to promote healthy lifestyles and prevent things like injuries or the spread of disease.”

Every year, the briefing also focuses on one specific type of cancer. This year, the attention fell on human papillomavirus, or HPV. According to the report, more than 90 percent of cervical cancers are likely caused by HPV infection.

Lynch said the concentration was an effort to bring awareness to an HPV vaccine administered in 2006 that has received some resistance.

“We have to do more of a campaign to make people more aware of the availability of the vaccine,” he said. “Those types of sexual practices are more common in the current generation … so that makes it more important for young people to get it.”

Lynch said 2 to 3 percent of cancers in Iowa are HPV, and while the rate is increasing, the number can be lowered with more awareness.

“Most powerful medicine is to prevent the disease form ever happening, and that’s the vaccine … and not enough Iowans are taking advantage of it at this point,” he said.

Nitin Pagedar, a UI assistant professor of otolaryngology, said he has seen an increase in the rate of oropharynx cancer because of the increase in HPV-related cancers. Pagedar said by the year 2020, oropharynx cancer, which occurs when cancerous cells develop in the back of the throat, will be more common than cervical cancer.

Pagedar said in an email the effects of the HPV vaccine on oropharynx cancer have not been studied; however, he said, the vaccine is effective against other cancers. Officials expect similar vaccines to oropharynx cancer as well.

Briefings such as this are only a glimpse into the future of cancer research, he said, noting that large-scale, nationwide clinical trials are investigating similar things as researchers at the UI.

“Scientists at UI are currently working to better understand how HPV transforms normal cells into cancer,” he said. “In the hospital, my colleagues and I are also working to determine how best to treat HPV-related cancers of the oropharynx, specifically to determine which combination of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy offers the best chance at cure.”

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