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Holocaust Survivors Show Link Between Hunger and Breast Cancer: Study

Update Date: Sep 26, 2012 10:49 AM EDT
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Severe hunger leads to mental stress, as previous studies have shown. But in a study published in the International Journal of Clinical Practice, researchers give  a new meaning to the term 'hunger pains.'

Researchers indicate that war survivors such as Holocaust survivors or women serving actively in the military who experienced severe hunger, bordering on starvation, are five times more likely to develop breast cancer than women who were mildly exposed.

For the study, researchers analyzed 65 women diagnosed with breast cancer and 200 control participants without it. All participants lived in Israel and the controls were part of various organizations for World War Two victims and survivors.

Dr. Neomi Vin-Raviv from the School of Public Health at the University of Haifa, Israel explains that all participants of the study had lived under Nazi control for at least six months, and were necessary in order to distinguish any links between breast cancer and hunger. 

"We were keen to see what effect restricted calories during this period had on the development of breast cancer and how exposure at an early age, before breast development, affected the potential risk.

The study found, among other things, that the highest percentage of women with breast cancer were seven years old or younger during World War Two, younger than the controls.

It also showed that over 63 percent of the women who had breast cancer lived under direct Nazi rule, along with having experienced severe hunger.

Ultimately the findings illustrated that women who were were near to starving were fie times more likely to develop breast cancer than those faced with mild hunger and that being seven years old or younger at the time increased the odds by 2.8 times.

"We believe that our findings will be of interest to clinicians treating women involved in any situation such as war and famine, where food is scarce and hunger is severe." said Dr. Vin-Raviv in a statement.

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