Iowa has the fourth-highest incidence of alcohol-related cancers in the U.S. and has the highest rate in the Midwest
Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Iowans’ alcohol consumption—in volume and frequency—is among the highest in the nation, and puts residents at greater risk for cancer, according to the 2024 Cancer in Iowa report issued by the Iowa Cancer Registry.

The annual report, produced by the College of Public Health at the University of Iowa, notes that the state of Iowa has the fourth-highest incidence of alcohol-related cancers in the U.S. and has the highest rate in the Midwest.

Only Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi have higher rates of alcohol-related cancers among U.S. states.

Mary Charlton
Mary Charlton

“With this year’s report, we seek to increase awareness that all types of alcoholic beverages increase cancer risk, and reducing the amount we drink will also reduce alcohol-related cancers,” says Mary Charlton, professor of epidemiology in the College of Public Health and the report’s co-author. “What’s especially noteworthy is while any alcohol can increase one’s risk of cancer, heavy drinking and binge drinking pose the greatest risk.”

Binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more drinks for men or four or more drinks for women in a single occasion. In 2022, 22% of adults in Iowa reported binge drinking, compared with 17% in the U.S. That ranks Iowa fourth in the nation for adult binge drinking.

The issue is acute with young drinkers: 23% of Iowa youth (ages 12–20) reported drinking at least one alcoholic drink, and 15% reported binge drinking in 2019-20.

Charlton says public-health researchers have conducted multiple analyses to determine the reasons behind Iowa’s high cancer rate.

“One place Iowans stand out from other states is alcohol consumption,” Charlton says. “Alcohol can increase one’s risk of cancer through various pathways. Reducing the amount we drink could significantly lower the risk of cancer. This report contains information and resources on how to reduce drinking, at the individual level as well as at the policy level.”

Heavy drinking is defined as consuming more than 14 drinks per week for men and more than seven drinks per week for women. In 2022, 8% of adults in Iowa reported heavy drinking, a percentage point higher than the national average and the sixth-highest rate among all states. These percentages have remained steady over the past decade.

While the heavy-drinking rate has remained constant, the rate of alcohol-related cancers was almost 10% higher in Iowa than the U.S average, according to survey results from 2019, the latest year statistics have been reported.

While the link to tobacco and cancer has been well established, what’s less known is that all types of alcoholic beverages, and any amount of drinking, increases one’s risk of cancer, the report’s authors say. Only 40% of adults know that alcohol may increase cancer risk, even at low-to-moderate levels. The bottom line: The more alcohol a person drinks, the higher the risk of cancer.

Other findings from the report:

  • An estimated 21,000 cancers will be diagnosed among Iowans this year.

  • An estimated 6,100 Iowans will die from cancer.

  • The number of cancer survivors is growing, with an estimated 168,610 Iowans who overcame cancer between 1973 and 2019.

The report includes county-by-county statistics, summaries of new research projects, and a special section focused on racial disparity. All information in the report is available online ( or by calling the registry at 319-335-8609. 

The Cancer in Iowa report is a product of the Iowa Cancer Registry, which collects cancer data on all Iowa residents. The Iowa Cancer Registry is funded in part with federal funds from the National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, under Contract No. HHSN261201800012I, as well as by the University of Iowa and the State of Iowa.

In 2023, the Iowa Cancer Registry marked 50 years of serving Iowans with comprehensive, meticulously collected cancer information.