Saturday, June 3, 2023

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One state among the 50 registered an increase in the incidence of cancer in 2022. That would be Iowa. The only one.

Only Kentucky ranked ahead of Iowa last year in the rate of its residents’ cancer cases. But Kentucky’s rate dropped last year. Iowa’s grew.

The reasons for those facts remain a mystery. University of Iowa researchers are trying to figure it out.

We have a lot of nitrate in our rivers, more than do most other states (maybe all others), and many of our cities draw their water from rivers. Nitrate apparently has links to some cancers.

We have an older population, but more than a dozen states surpass us in that category. Some Iowans smoke, but we trail a number of other states in that respect, too. We don’t rank at the top in obesity.

CNA - Stop HIV Iowa (June 1)CNA - Stop HIV Iowa (June 2)

In any event, holding the unique distinction of an increase in cancer cases among our population doesn’t win us much applause. You would think we would want to educate our young people about how to avoid the dreaded disease, in all its forms.

But apparently not.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) causes 95 percent of cervical cancers and much oral cancer as well. It spreads through sexual contact. There’s a vaccine against HPV that’s very effective IF it is given before an infection sets in. 

For that reason, for a number of years Iowa law has required that the health curriculum for public school students in grades seven and eight (mostly ages 12 and 13) include “age-appropriate and research-based information regarding the characteristics of sexually transmitted diseases including HPV and the availability of vaccine to prevent HPV . . .”.

The law doesn’t require that students be immunized against HPV. It informs them of the vaccine’s existence so they and their parents can decide for themselves whether to use the vaccine.

But bills now working their way through the Iowa Legislature (HF 187 and SF 496) would delete the specific reference to HPV and its vaccine, ending the sentence after the words “sexually transmitted diseases.” In other words, no mention will be made of HPV or how its vaccine can protect against infection. That information would become optional in the curriculum rather than mandatory.

Not surprisingly, the bills’ authors and supporters come from the Republican majority in both houses. Those majorities say they want to empower parents to have a greater role in the education of their children. They’ve adopted some laws this session that they claim will do that.

They no doubt state that the proposed change in the law about sexually transmitted diseases would similarly empower parents. But if a school chooses to deprive children of the facts about HPV and its vaccine, it would impinge on the desire of some parents to have their offspring educated about the disease and how to protect against it, especially at an age before most young people become sexually active. 

HPV is a ticking time bomb. The onset of its potential cancers takes place decades after the infection. Withholding education about HPV and its vaccine means that some uninformed pre-teens and teens will begin a journey that ends in their death by cancer years down the road.

It’s one more example in this legislative session of selective deprivation: one set of parents penalized at the expense of another set. It’s not just inconsistent: in this case it’s dangerous and it’s unfair.

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Summer Stir (June 2023)