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The incidence of all cancers, and especially breast and colorectal cancers, are higher among Israeli Jews who were potentially exposed to the Holocaust compared with those who were not, according to the results of a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.[1]

Researchers from the University of Haifa in Israel evaluated a cohort of 315,544 Israeli Jews who were born in Europe. They lacked data on who was actually exposed to the Holocaust, so they divided the cohort into non-exposed and exposed groups according to the date of emigration from Europe; the non-exposed group consisted of 57,496 subjects who left Europe before or during the war, and the exposed group consisted of 258,048 subjects who left Europe after the war. They used the Israeli National Cancer Registry to obtain data on cancer incidence.

The researchers found that Israeli Jews who spent the duration of World War II in Europe had a statistically significant increased incidence of cancer. They were 17% more likely to develop cancer than those who left before or during the war. The most common cancers among this population were breast, colorectal, and lung cancers. The increased incidence was highest among the youngest members of the cohort (those born between 1940 and 1945).

The researchers concluded that the incidence of all cancers, and particularly breast, colorectal, and lung cancers, was higher among Israeli Jews who spent the duration of World War II in Europe and therefore were potentially exposed to the Holocaust. The reasons for this increased incidence are unknown, but the researchers speculate that stress or extreme deprivation may play a role.

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[1] Keinan-Boker L, Vin-Raviv N, Liphshitz I, et al. Cancer incidence in Israeli Jewish survivors of World War II. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 2009; 101:1-12.

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