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University of Iowa News Release


March 24, 2010

Report: cancer is now the leading cause of death in Iowa

canceriniowaWhile cancer death rates continue to decline across the state, a newly released report finds that cancer has surpassed heart disease to become the leading cause of death in Iowa.

The annual "Cancer in Iowa" report, released today by the State Health Registry of Iowa, based in the University of Iowa College of Public Health, features a special section on the leading causes of death in Iowa.

lynch"This is the first time in the history of recording these data, that we have seen cancer as the leading cause of death in Iowa," said Charles F. Lynch, M.D., Ph.D., (right) medical director of the registry and UI professor of epidemiology. "Both cancer and heart disease deaths are declining, but when we look at the age-adjusted rates, heart disease deaths have been declining at a faster pace for a longer period of time than cancer deaths."

For decades, cancer and heart disease have combined to account for nearly half or more of all deaths in Iowa. Between 1994 and 2007, cancer death rates in Iowa decreased 13 percent while heart disease death rates decreased 35 percent, the report stated. Declining cancer mortality in Iowa has primarily been a result of decreases in the four most common types of cancer -- lung, colorectal, prostate and female breast.

The report, based on data from the Iowa Department of Public Health and the Iowa Cancer Registry, also includes county-by-county cancer statistics. The report is available online in the "publications" section on the State Health Registry of Iowa's web site at or by calling the registry at 319-335-8609.

In 2010, the report estimated, 6,400 Iowans will die from cancer and 16,400 new cancers will be diagnosed.

"The projected numbers are comparable to what the State Health Registry has reported in recent years, and there have not been any major shifts in cancer data," Lynch said.

weinerGeorge Weiner, M.D., (left) director of Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the UI, said prolonged efforts to prevent, detect and treat cancer will continue to result in steadily declining cancer death rates.

"We don't always see the payoff on advances right away in the cancer rates. The benefits of what we are doing today will be seen in the future data," Weiner said.

There is not a "one size fits all" intervention for preventing and treating all forms of cancer, he said. For example, the most valuable advances for one type of cancer may be improvements in prevention, for another type it may be early detection, and for yet other forms of the disease it might be improvements in therapy.

Cancer is strongly influenced by both genetic and environmental factors, Lynch said. Lifestyle alterations such as smoking cessation, healthy eating, regular exercise and reduced alcohol consumption can be important in cancer and heart disease prevention.

Given the increasing rates of obesity and diabetes, it is possible the leading cause of death in Iowa may continue to fluctuate, the report stated.

The State Health Registry of Iowa has been gathering cancer incidence and follow-up data in Iowa since 1973. To learn more about the registry, visit

STORY SOURCE: The University of Iowa College of Public Health Office of Communications and External Relations, 4257 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242

MEDIA CONTACT: Hannah Fletcher, 319-384-4277,

PHOTOS/CAPTIONS: Web quality images: For a low-res image of Charles F. Lynch at or George Weiner at For high-res images, contact Hannah Fletcher, 319-384-4277,