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University of Iowa News Release


March 14, 2008

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is focus of new 'Cancer in Iowa' report

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is one of the most rapidly increasing types of cancer diagnosed in the United States with new diagnoses having more than doubled since the 1970s. However, over the past 10 years, mortality rates have begun to decline, indicating that progress is being made in its treatment.

According to the newly issued State Health Registry of Iowa "Cancer in Iowa: 2008" report, non-Hodgkin lymphoma will cause an estimated 270 cancer deaths in Iowa in 2008, accounting for 4.3 percent of cancer deaths in both men and women. This year in Iowa, there will be an estimated 740 new cases (340 women and 400 men), making non-Hodgkin lymphoma the sixth most common cancer in Iowa.

"The exact causes of non-Hodgkin lymphoma are not known, and there are no routine or simple screening methods," said Charles Lynch, M.D., Ph.D., (photo, left) medical director of the registry, which is based in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Iowa College of Public Health. "Certain risk factors have been shown to be associated with the disease, including a weak immune system, some types of viruses and bacteria, environmental risk factors like pesticides, and occupations such as farming."

"Although Iowa is a farming state, its rates of non-Hodgkin lymphoma are close to the national average," added Lynch, who also is a UI professor of epidemiology. "This indicates that farming is not a major risk factor for this disease."

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma originates in a subset of white blood cells called lymphocytes, which are part of the body's immune system. The disease can occur in people of all ages and swell lymph nodes, create masses and cause weight loss and fatigue.

"Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a spectrum of diseases that share similarities but also can be separated into subtypes that are increasingly being found to have unique risk factors and to respond to different therapies," Lynch said. 

Some subtypes of non-Hodgkin lymphoma are among the most aggressive of all cancers, while other subtypes are so slow growing, they do not even need immediate treatment, noted George Weiner, M.D., (photo, right) director of the Specialized Program for Research Excellence (SPORE) in lymphoma research at the UI and head of Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the UI.

The UI's lymphoma SPORE, funded by the National Cancer Institute, is one of only three lymphoma SPORE grant programs in the country. Experts at Mayo Clinic work with the UI as part of the UI SPORE grant. More than 2,000 patients participate in the SPORE.

"A primary goal of the SPORE is to understand how lymphoma treatments work and how to improve them," Weiner said "We are making significant progress in the treatment of non-Hodgkin lymphoma due partly to figuring out how to use the immune system to fight this cancer.

Anti-lymphoma monoclonal antibodies are extremely helpful in treating many lymphoma patients, but not in others, Weiner said. One project supported by the SPORE focuses on understanding these differences by exploring in detail how antibodies direct the patient's own immune system to attack the lymphoma. Another is evaluating how inborn differences in the immune system impact on how well the antibodies work.

"This SPORE research is leading to new approaches to using current antibodies and to the design of stronger antibodies that we hope will be better than those currently available. This research could have an impact on other cancers, as well," Weiner said.

More than 150 hospitals, clinics and medical laboratories across Iowa, as well as referral facilities in neighboring states, contribute data to the State Health Registry of Iowa. The registry is one of 17 registries nationwide that currently are funded to provide data to the National Cancer Institute. Iowa's registry staff includes 50 members, half of whom are located throughout the state and help collect data from many facilities. The registry has been gathering cancer incidence and follow-up data for the state since 1973.

To learn more about non-Hodgkin lymphoma, visit the National Cancer Institute at

To learn more about the University of Iowa and Mayo Clinic Specialized Program of Research Excellence in lymphoma based at the UI, visit

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5137 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 5224-1178

MEDIA CONTACT: Becky Soglin, 319 335-6660