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Research Links Holocaust Survivors with High Cancer Rate

Unique but not conclusive Israeli study indicates Holocaust survivors suffer from cancer more than those who came to Israel before Holocaust.
By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
First Publish: 12/30/2009, 9:24 AM / Last Update: 12/30/2009, 9:20 AM

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A unique Israeli study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute indicates that European Jews who survived Nazi death and concentration camps as children experience a significantly higher rate of cancer than those managed to escape to Israel.

The research is believed to be the first comprehensive study on the subject. The researchers studied more than 300,000 men born in Europe between 1940 and 1945 and concluded that they developed cancer 3.5 times the rate of those of the same age who were able to make their way to Israel. For women who survived the Nazis, the rate was twice as high as those who escaped.

The study revealed that women born in the earlier 1940s suffered breast cancer 2.5 times more than those who immigrated to Israel under the British Mandate. In men, the rate of colon cancer was 1.75 times higher for those who survived the Nazis.

Dr. Micha Barchana, director of the Israel National Cancer Registry and the paper’s senior author, noted that the subject is delicate. “Holocaust survivors are treated like a special population in Israel, and we wanted to be sensitive,” she stated in a report by The New York Times. “They have already been traumatized, and we did not want to traumatize them again.”

Previous studies in the United States have indicated that stress may contribute to cancer but warned that no conclusions could be drawn concerning those who suffered trauma at the hands of the Nazis. The survivors also were exposed to malnutrition, freezing weather and infections in addition to stress.