Report: HPV-related cancer in Iowa on the rise

Breast, prostate, colorectal and lung cancers still account for most of the cancer diagnoses in state

Between 2006 and 2011, 2,107 cancers at sites related to the human papillomavirus were diagnosed in Iowa – a 24 percent increase over the total HPV-related cancers diagnosed between 1988 and 1993.

Cervical cancer represented 46 percent of all HPV-related cancer among women, and oropharynx cancer – which has seen a dramatic increase in recent years – accounted for 79 percent of all HPV-related cancer among men.

“It is basically a new disease,” Nitin Pagedar, assistant professor in the University of Iowa Department of Otolaryngology, said about HPV-related oropharynx cancer. “This is something we didn’t that often 10 years ago.”

Those numbers were made public Monday as part of the annual “Cancer in Iowa” report issued by the State Health Registry of Iowa, based in the UI College of Public Health.

Breast, prostate, colorectal and lung cancers still account for most of the cancer diagnoses in Iowa, and the new report estimates that 17,400 cancers will be diagnosed among Iowa residents in 2014. The report estimates that 6,400 Iowans will die from cancer this year.

HPV-related cancer accounted for 2.2 percent of all microscopically-confirmed invasive cancers from 2006 to 2011, but the rates are growing. Following current trends in Iowa and nationally, HPV-related oropharynx cancer is expected to surpass the number of cervical cancers by 2020.

“There has been an increase in the rate of oropharynx cancerin general over the past 24 years,” Pagedar said. “This is largely explained by the increasing incidence of HPV-related cancers.”

HPV is among the most common sexually transmitted diseases worldwide, and researchers have well established a link between the infection and cancer. Although HPV is most commonly associated with cervical cancer, it also is linked to cancer in the anus, penis, vagina, vulva and in the throat and back of the oral cavity.

“HPV-related cancer is increasing in frequency, especially for men,” said Charles Lynch, medical director of the State Health Registry of Iowa.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about 8,400 people in the United States each year are diagnosed with cancers of the oropharynx possibly caused by HPV. In Iowa, 788 people were diagnosed with oropharynx cancer between 2006 and 2011, and this year’s report highlights HPV-related cancers – in part – because there is a method of prevention.

Two HPV vaccines have been available in the United States since 2006, and the CDC recommends routine vaccination for girls and boys ages 11 to 12 with three doses – rather than just one. Vaccination also is recommended for females ages 13 to 26 and males ages 13 to 21 who were not vaccinated previously.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” said George Weiner, director of the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the UI. “In Iowa, we have a long way to go.”

Among girls in Iowa, according to the most recent statistics, 58 percent were vaccinated with one dose and 36 percent were vaccinated with the recommended three doses. Just 18 percent of boys received one dose, and Weiner said there aren’t statistics for boys who’ve received three doses.

A national effort is on to get practitioners pushing the vaccine as part of the regular schedule of vaccinations. The goal is to protect young people before they become sexual active, according to Weiner.

“The benefits are not going to come tomorrow,” he said, “but if we can prevent one Iowan from getting cancer, we are doing our job.”

The state’s overall cancer numbers are on par with previous years, but officials said the report actually shows improvement, as the age-adjusted cancer rate is decreasing. That means fewer diagnoses among younger people and fewer deaths in the younger populace.

“More than half of those diagnosed with cancer will be with us in more than five years,” Lynch said. 

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