Cancer death rates in Iowa expected to go up

The pandemic wasn’t just lethal to many Iowans who caught COVID-19, but it’s also feared to be part of what’s driving up Iowa’s cancer death rate.

Many people have put off regular screenings in the past two years, and the results are reflected in this year’s “Cancer in Iowa” report.

Dr. Mary Charlton is an epidemiology professor at the University of Iowa and director of the Iowa Cancer Registry. “We estimate there will be 20,000 new cancers diagnosed among Iowans this year, up just over 1,000 from last year,” Charlton says. “Breast, prostate, lung, and colorectal cancers make up about half of all cancer cases in Iowa. We estimate there will be approximately 6,300 cancer deaths among Iowans in 2022.”

Dr. Mary Charlton. (U-I photo)

The annual report is produced to help doctors, researchers and others understand and reduce the burden of cancer in Iowa by tracking progress and determining areas of need. One of the biggest areas remains smoking.

“Lung cancer continues to be the most common cause of cancer death, for both males and females, accounting for one out of every four cancer deaths in Iowa,” Charlton says. “Colorectal cancer is the second-most common cause of death, and pancreatic is the third most common. These three cancers plus breast and prostate cancers account for half of all cancer deaths in Iowa.”

There is optimism in the report, as many tens of thousands of Iowans have beaten the disease. “We estimate that there are almost 160,000 people living in Iowa who have been diagnosed with cancer at some point since 1973 when the Iowa Cancer Registry began collecting data,” Charlton says. “Those previously diagnosed with breast, prostate and colorectal cancers account for half of all cancer survivors in Iowa.”

When COVID was declared a pandemic in March of 2020, many cancer screenings were put on hold.
Charlton says, “While we do not yet know the extent of the impact of this decrease, it is possible that the missed screenings during the pandemic led to delayed diagnoses of cancer, more advanced stage of disease at the time of diagnosis, and an increase in avoidable cancer deaths.”

Screenings are again being offered now, with safety precautions in place, and anyone who missed or delayed getting screened is encouraged to get back on track. Studies find about 41-percent of American adults delayed or avoided medical care — including cancer screening tests — between March and June of 2020.

See the full Cancer in Iowa report here: