Feb 22, 2024 - News

Iowa's cancer problem

Illustration of a sad man sitting inside of an empty beer bottle.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Iowa has the second-highest rate of new cancer cases in the country for the second straight year, according to a new report by the Iowa Cancer Registry (ICR).

Why it matters: An estimated 6,100 Iowans are projected to die from cancer this year.

  • While multiple factors contribute to the state's dire number, a cancer risk that Iowans can control is alcohol consumption, per the report.

State of play: After Iowa's high ranking last year, ICR focused on trying to find out why, as well as any "modifiable" behaviors that can improve rates.

  • An outlier factor proved to be binge drinking rates — 23% of Iowans binge drink compared to 17% nationwide, according to a recent report by the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services.

Zoom in: All types of alcohol at any amount increase cancer risks, according to the report, though binge drinking poses the highest dangers.

  • Carcinogens from alcohol damage our DNA and also decrease our vitamin absorption, which is important for DNA repair.
  • Heavy drinkers are also five times more likely to develop oral or pharyngeal cancers — Iowa ranks second highest this year for new rates of these cancers.

Be smart: It's recommended that adults who drink consume at most two drinks a day for men and one for women.

The bottom line: Many factors can cause cancer, such as genetics, behavioral and environmental structures — but alcohol can compound those risks.

  • Any amount of alcohol reduction will likely reduce a person's risk of cancer, per the report.

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