Utahns have a different cancer profile than people in other states, and scientists don't yet understand all the reasons why, say American Cancer Society representatives.
Dr. Harmon Eyre, co-chairman of the society's National Public Issues Committee, told Utah lawmakers Wednesday that the state's age-adjusted cancer death rate of 118 per 100,000 people is about half the national rate of 204 deaths per 100,000.About two-thirds of that difference is clearly due to Utah's lower smoking rate, he said.
"About a third of it we don't have a good explanation for, but most of it is in colon cancer, and we think that that is predominantly related to diet."
Eyre, a Utahn himself who works at the University of Utah Health Sciences Center, said researchers still are not sure exactly which Utah diet differences are the important ones. "It may be fiber. It may be more calcium. We eat more dairy products than any other place in the country."
Although Utah's alcohol consumption rates are lower than those elsewhere and alcohol consumption can relate to cancer, "that doesn't explain many of these numbers," he said.
"We need better science on it, but it's very real."
In contrast, Utahns have the highest rates of prostate and skin cancer in the nation, said Colleen Bryan, chairwoman of the state cancer organization's Public Issues Committee.
She said the prostate cancer difference probably relates to a low level of awareness and cancer screening among Utah men. The skin cancer relates to the state's high altitude and high percentage of people involved in outdoor pursuits, she said.
Utah also has a higher-than-normal breast cancer rate, but researchers don't know why, Bryan said. "Typically, high breast cancer goes with not having kids - so that's not a problem - and not breast-feeding."
Lynn Meinor, vice president for programs for the society's Utah Division, said scientists are researching lifestyles to see if factors there are making the difference.