September 20, 2014

Lung still top killer among cancers in Iowa

An annual report released by the University of Iowa estimates 6,400 Iowans will die from cancer this year and 17,400 residents will be diagnosed with some type of cancer. Charles Lynch is medical director of the State Health Registry of Iowa and a professor of epidemiology at the U-I College of Public Health.

He says the numbers are similar to those reported in recent years. “But, they are indicative of a declining age adjusted rate of cancer in the state because cancer is primarily a disease of older people and our population continues to age in the state of Iowa,” Lynch said. “So, our numbers are staying stable when we should be seeing even more cases.”

Lung cancer remains the top cancer killer of Iowans. “It accounts for about one out of every four cancer deaths in Iowa,” Lynch said. “The number of lung cancer deaths exceeds female breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers combined,” Lynch said. The “Cancer in Iowa: 2014” report released today features a section focused on HPV or human papillomavirus-related cancers.

HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection. “The reason we’re emphasizing it this year is because there has been a vaccine developed, it’s been available since 2006, but it’s been under-utilized in Iowa and across the nation,” Lynch said. “There’s a push right now to get more people vaccinated and preferably we’d like to get them vaccinated before they become exposed to the HPV virus.”

Lynch recommends 11 and 12 year old children get the vaccine, but the FDA has approved the vaccine for individuals up to the age of 26.

Bill to require radon testing in Iowa schools clears senate

A bill that would require Iowa school buildings to be tested for radon has cleared the Iowa Senate. The legislation does not require school officials to fix buildings where unacceptable levels of radon gas are discovered, however, and that is “shameful” acording to Senator Matt McCoy, a Democrat from Des Moines.

“I will support for this bill. It is a warm bucket of spit,” McCoy said. “I’m not happy about it. It is weak. It is sad, but it is the best we’re going to get and I urge the rest of you to plug your nose and support this bill.”

Senator Tod Bowman, a Democrat from Maquoketa, cited the old adage that making legislation is like making sausage.

“It’s not warm spit. It’s sausage,” Bowman said. “And while some don’t see it as perfect, I see it as a great first step.”

If the bill becomes law, school districts would be required to report the results of radon tests to the Iowa Department of Education. Supporters say that will help define the problem. The bill passed on a 35-14 vote. It now goes to the House for consideration.  Senators passed a bill last year that would have required radon testing in schools, but that bill died in a House subcommittee. Critics say schools would face significant costs if tests reveal high levels of radon in school buildings.

Legislators debate requiring schools to test for radon

Legislators are wrestling with a new requirement that schools test for radon — the odorless, colorless gas that can cause lung cancer.

Bills that would require radon tests in every Iowa school building have cleared committees in both the House and Senate. Emily Piper, a lobbyist for the Iowa Association of School Boards, says school officials are worried about the bottom line.

“It is not about the need to do the testing and mitigation,” Piper says. “It’s about the cost and how we’re going to pay for that.”

Piper says the cost of a radon test depends upon the size of the building — and the cost can be as much as $4500 for just one building. A bill that cleared a House committee this week would require radon tests in schools, but give districts until 2025 to conduct those tests and make building improvements if there are unacceptably high levels of the gas.

The Iowa Senate passed a bill last year that would have required radon testing in schools and similar legislation has cleared a senate committee this week. Senator Tod Bowman, a Democrat from Maquoketa, is a teacher and coach who supports the radon testing requirement.

“And I’m a little weary of the concept of a constituent coming up and saying: ‘I went to school and it didn’t kill me,’” Bowman said during a hearing on the issue.

House members are considering the creation of a $5 million state fund that would give financially-struggling schools loans to not only pay for radon tests, but any building modifications needed to reduce elevated radon levels.

The American Cancer Society classifies radon as the second-leading cause of lung cancer. Radon is a natural radioactive gas found in the soil and the entire state of Iowa is considered at “high risk” for elevated levels of radon in homes and buildings.

Tanning bed ban for teens clears senate committee

A tanning-bed ban for teens that had been controversial in years’ past has made it beyond a key legislative deadline and is no longer drawing opposition from the industry. Joseph Levy, the scientific advisor for the American Suntanning Association, was at the statehouse this week as a bill to prohibit minors from using commercial tanning beds passed a senate committee.

“We’re supporting it because we believe we need to move to a higher level discussion on the nuances of the sun care message,” Levy says.

A similar bill was discussed last year by three senators who heard Ames dermatologist Leslie Christenson say the ultraviolet rays from tanning beds are “a known carcinogen.”

“Right up there with tobacco and asbestos,” Christenson said during a subcommittee meeting a year ago. “…We’re a bit behind in how we’re regulating these.”

The industry disputes that. Levy says 17 percent of smokers get lung cancer, while the risk of getting melanoma is 0.3 percent for tanning bed users.

“There are many proponents in the literature today of getting UV exposure…in a moderate, non-burning fashion,” Levy says.

Critics like the association for Iowa dermatologists disagree. Those doctors call tanning beds “dangerous” and say indoor tanning increases skin cancer risk by 75 percent. The latest statistics indicate nearly 30 percent of the U.S. population has used a tanning bed at one point in their life and Levy says about two percent of the clients who use tanning facilities are minors.

“UV is the body’s natural way to make vitamin D,” Levy says. “There are many people who tan for that reason.”

According to the association for Iowa dermatologists, “just one indoor tanning session increases users’ chances of developing melanoma by 20 percent.” The bill which bans minors from businesses that rent tanning bed time is now ready for debate in the Iowa Senate.

House votes to ban e-cigarette sales to minors

The Iowa House has voted to ban the sale of “e-cigarettes” to minors. Representative Chip Baltimore, a Republican from Boone, calls them “alternative nicotine products.”

“These products, thanks to technological innovation, take the carcinogenic smoke out of the equation,” Baltimore said. “…Because nicotine may be addictive for some, then it’s appropriate to keep it out of the hands of children. That’s what this bill does.”

Critics suggest the bill is a backdoor bid to ensure e-cigarettes are not classified as a tobacco proeduct and therefore are not subject to state taxes or under the jurisdiction of the state’s Clean Air Act. Representative Tyler Olson, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, also suggested minors would be able to buy e-cigarettes that don’t contain nicotine, even if the bill becomes law.

“I want to make sure that all e-cigarettes, whether they have nicotine or don’t, are kept out of the hands of minors,” Olson said. “The non-nicotine e-cigarettes come in flavors…cherry, grape and others. Those are clearly intended to be marketed to minors.”

The bill — without any of the changes critics sought — passed on a 76 to 22 vote and goes to the senate for consideration.

Parole board says woman serving life can move to hospice (Audio)

Darcy Olson testifies at Kristina Fetter's parole hearing.

Darcy Olson testifies at Kristina Fetter’s parole hearing.

The Iowa Board of Parole today agreed to grant parole to an inmate who was sentenced to life in prison for first-degree murder at the age of 15. Kristina Fetters, who is now 33, was convicted in the 1995 death of her great aunt, Arlene Klehm, in Des Moines.

Fetters is dying of cancer. Most of the victim’s family has supported Fetters’ parole to a hospice facility. Her aunt, Darcy Olson of Des Moines, was the only person to speak at today’s parole board meeting. “No one can alter the past. It is what it is, this happened to our family and it’s now time for my family to have closure,” Olson said. “Kristina’s impending death cannot be denied and while there have been negative comments, we believe, as the victims, our family has suffered enough and we ask the parole board to grant our request.”

In September, doctors in Iowa City diagnosed Fetters with Stage 4 inoperable breast cancer. In November, a Polk County judge resentenced Fetters to a life sentence with the possibility for parole. Parole board member Doris Kelly of Waterloo called for Fetters’ parole, but only under the condition that she remain in a hospice facility.

“I do not see her as a public safety risk,” Kelly said. “The crime that she committed was a terrible crime, but she has been resentenced…so, I would be supportive of a parole to hospice only, with many conditions. In other words, she is not to leave hospice.”

Parole board member Thomas Phillips of Waukee supported Fetters’ parole as well, noting that the board could revisit the case if Fetters’ condition would improve.

“Should things change miraculously or whatever, the Board of Parole would reassess…so, I do not see this necessarily being the final vote that the board would take,” Phillips said.

In recent days, doctors have reported Fetters has shown some improvement, but Olson doubts Fetters will ever fully recover. “As someone who has lost a very important person in my life to cancer, I’ve seen people rally for just a short period of time and that’s what I think will happen in this case,” Olson said.

A spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Corrections said the board’s decision means Fetters will likely be paroled and sent to Hospice Care of Central Iowa within two weeks. Olson said Fetters’ mother and the rest of her family are relieved with the decision, but there’s little cause for celebration. “It’s just so bitter sweet,” Olson said. “This has been a 19 year old tragedy for my family. This will bring closure for my whole family and help us all cope just a little bit better with the situation. I’m grateful that my sister (Fetters’ mother) will be able to spend this time with her.”

Board of Parole Chairman Jason Carlstrom said only two letters were received from Iowans who were against Fetters’ parole. He said there were “quite a few” letters in support of her parole.

Audio: Parole Board discussion on Fetters. 16:43.

Governor dons pink tie to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Gov-tie-1Governor Terry Branstad on Thursday signed a proclaimation declaring the month of October as Breast Cancer Awareness month.

Representatives of groups like the American Cancer Society were on hand to watch Branstad sign the proclamation, then one of them handed the governor a pink tie.

“Wear that and think of the fight against breast cancer throughout the state,” said Roger Dahl of the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

One of the women told Branstad “real men wear pink.” Branstad replied: “You know something? I’ll change ties, right here.”

Standing behind the massive desk in his formal office, Branstad shed his tie and started tying the pink one around his neck. “It goes with my shirt, I Gov-tie-3think,” Branstad quipped.

The governor lamented the lack of a mirror, but finished his windsor knot in less than a minute. It took Branstad more than twice as long to read the proclamation about Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

He began with sobering statistics.”It is estimated that 33,000 women in Iowa are living with a diagnosis of breast cancer,” Branstad said.

The American Cancer Society’s Lorrie Graaf said her group and others are focused on a single goal: “To decrease the number of women who die of breast cancer by increasing the number of women who are scanned by mamograms.”

Gov-tie-4One out of eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at sometime in their lifetime. But with early detection and advances in treatment, there’s now a 99 percent five-year survival rate when the breast cancer is localized.