New Iowa health report shows drop in cancer deaths, more accidental poisoning

Better detection, treatment credited for improving cancer survival rates

Vanessa Miller
Published: January 21 2014 | 3:47 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 2:28 am in

Cancer remained the second leading killer of Iowans from 2006 to 2010, but its mortality rates are trending down, according to a new report out of the University of Iowa and the Iowa Department of Public Health.

Since the 1990s, Iowa has seen a drop in cancer mortality rates thanks to a reduction in prostate, female breast and colorectal cancer, according to the recently released 2013 Iowa Health Fact Book. The state also has seen a decline in deaths related to lung cancer.

“Lung cancer is going down because so many people are stopping smoking,” said Patricia Quinlisk, medical director for the Iowa Department of Public Health and state epidemiologist.

A drop in smoking also can be thanked, in part, for improved mortality rates related to heart disease, the leading cause of death in Iowa, and stroke, the fourth leading killer in the state, Quinlisk said.

“Smoking has had a huge impact on heart disease, stroke, pulmonary disease, infectious diseases and other types of cancer,” she said.

From 1978 to 1980, the state’s age-adjusted mortality rate for heart disease was 374 per 100,000 people. That rate dropped to 178 deaths per 100,000 from 2006 to 2010, representing a 52 percent decline, according to the fact book.

Likewise, when comparing the 1978 to 1980 time frame with the most recent study period, Iowa saw a 57 percent drop in age-adjusted stroke mortality.

“If you do smoke, you have a 50 percent chance of dying from a smoking-related illness,” Quinlisk said.

Today, less than half of all Iowans newly diagnosed with cancer die from it, according to the fact book. Quinlisk said that, in part, is due to advancements in treatments.

“But it still is a horrible disease, and we would like to do a better job at preventing it,” she said.

From 2006 to 2010, according to the report, 31,766 Iowans died of cancer, accounting for 23 percent of all deaths. During that time, 83,196 Iowans were newly diagnosed with some type of invasive cancer, and 80 percent were age 55 or older.

Tobacco use is the leading “modifiable risk factor” for cancer, but alcohol consumption, obesity and other dietary factors also have been shown to increase a person’s cancer risk.

In 2012, self-reported binge drinking among Iowans was down slightly from 23.1 percent to 21.7 percent, but it remained above the national rate of 16.9 percent, according to the fact book.

Statistics also showed that Iowa’s obesity rate rose from 29 percent in 2011 to 30.4 percent in 2012, putting it almost three percentage points above the national rate of 27.6 percent in 2012.

Quinlisk said public health officials are focusing on the behavior that leads to obesity – not just on the end result.

“We want to look at having a good diet and being active – those are the things that we can do something about,” she said. “In these days of New Year’s resolutions, we want people to eat five or more fruits and vegetables a day and spend 30 minutes a day moving.”

Another growing public health concern that was highlighted in the report is unintentional poisoning. Rates of accidental poisoning deaths – like those resulting from prescription drug overdose and the mixing of medications with alcohol or illicit drugs – have reached an all-time high in Iowa and continue to climb.

Iowa saw its rate of unintentional poisoning deaths double from 2.9 per 100,000 people in 2006 to 5.9 per 100,000 people in 2011.

Jane Pendergast, director of the Center for Public Health Statistics and UI professor of biostatistics, said in a news release that accidental poisoning can happen at any age and “continues to be a major problem for Iowans.”

UI research shows the state’s unintentional poisoning mortality rate mirrors a rise in the prescription of narcotics, muscle relaxants and other sedatives, according to Pendergast.

“This trend highlights the need for better patient education about the risks of prescription medications and the important role of physicians and pharmacists in helping patients manage their medication regimen,” she said in a news release.

Other highlights from the report are listed below.

An outbreak of pertussis – or whooping cough – hit Iowa in 2012, when 1,736 cases were reported compared with 232 in 2011.

In response to that spike, Iowa – at the start of the current school year – began mandating seventh-graders get a booster shot for the tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis vaccine.

Some infectious diseases saw more activity in 2012, including salmonella, shigellosis, and syphilis.

Sexually transmitted diseases collectively have become more prevalent in Iowa since the late 1990s – the most common one being Chlamydia, with 11,377 reports in 2012.

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