Cancer in 2023: More Iowans will be diagnosed with it, fewer will die from it

IOWA CITY — The Iowa Cancer Registry is marking its 50th year and celebrating the fact cancer is much less deadly in Iowa today than in 1973 when the first report was published.

Registry director Mary Charlton, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Iowa, credits decades of advances in medicine, treatment and early screening technology.  “Cancer mortality is declining, and survival among people who are diagnosed with cancer is getting better as the years go by,” Charlton says. “So what used to be kind of a death sentence back in the ’70s versus now, we have over 160,000 Iowans living with a history of cancer and doing great.”

Early detection is the best defense against cancer, she says. Fifty years ago, about 10,000 cancer cases were being diagnosed each year statewide, while today, it’s more than 20,000. While more Iowans are being told they have cancer than five decades ago, many more are now surviving the fight.  “So things like breast cancer or prostate cancer, back in the 1970s, less than 75% of people diagnosed with those types of cancers survived at least five years,” Charlton says, “but now over 90% survive at least five years.”

There was troubling news in the report, as new national rankings now show Iowa has the second highest rate of new cancer cases in the US.   “I was really surprised to see that we had climbed that high,” Charlton says. “We’re only behind Kentucky, which is down in the Tobacco Belt. They’ve been number-one for a long time and have a very high smoking rate. We do not have as high as smoking rate, but it does seem like we’re just high. We have high rates of lots of different types of cancers in our population and we’re really trying to figure out why that is and what we can do to address that.”

The annual report allows doctors and researchers to focus on how to prevent and treat cancer, she says, and it provides Iowans with the knowledge they need to get advance screening and improve survival rates across the board.  “Breast, prostate, lung and colorectal cancers continue to make up almost half of all cancer cases in Iowa,” Charlton says. “In terms of cancer deaths, lung cancer continues to be the most common cause of cancer deaths, accounting for one out of every four cancer deaths in Iowa, with colorectal cancer and pancreatic cancer also in the top three.”

The report projects 20,800 Iowans will be diagnosed with cancer this year, an increase of 800 from last year. It also forecasts 6200 Iowans will die from cancer this year, a drop of 100 from a year ago.

See the full report here: