On Friday, the State Health Registry released their annual report on cancer in Iowa which estimates 16,900 new cancers will be diagnosed among Iowa residents in 2015. In addition, an estimated 6,400 Iowans will die from cancer.

“Cancer and heart disease remain the leading causes of death in Iowa,” says Mary Charlton, assistant professor of epidemiology at the UI College of Public Health. “The distribution and frequency of the different types of cancer are similar to what we’ve seen in recent years.” According to Charlton, lung cancer will be the most common cause of cancer death for both males and females, accounting for one out of every four cancer deaths in Iowa.

According to the report, skin melanoma is one of the fastest growing cancers in Iowa and is the fifth most common cancer in both males and females. Experts say several factors have likely contributed to the increase, including increased early exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, heightened public awareness and earlier diagnosis.

Charlton notes that some of the increase can be attributed to changes in reporting terminology. “In the 1970’s many noninvasive reportable skin melanoma cases (confined to the top layers of skin) were likely classified as a lesser lesion or something other than cancer,” she says. “We’re also seeing increased awareness and surveillance by health care providers, which is a positive as early detection is the key to better survival rates.”

According to the report, melanoma rates are the third most common cancer in adolescents and young adults. In Iowa, as with the Unites States in general, men have a higher rate of melanoma than women overall, but this varies by age, with young women having higher rates than young men.

“Young women, especially those with a history of intense sun exposure early in life and tanning bed use before age 30 are at high risk,” says Brian Swick, clinical associate professor of dermatology and pathology at the UI Carver College of Medicine. “From age 50 on, significantly more men than women develop melanoma with the majority of people diagnosed with melanoma being white men over the age of 50.”

George Weiner, director of Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the UI, says research had led to significant advances over the past several years in melanoma therapy, and that researchers at the UI are working to find even better ways to treat advanced melanoma. “This research extends from studies exploring the molecular causes of melanoma through development and testing of new targeted therapies and immunotherapies for patients with melanoma,” he says.

The State Health Registry of Iowa has been gathering cancer incidence and follow-up data for the state since 1973.

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