Jewish women who were severely exposed to hunger during World War Two were five times more likely to develop breast cancer than women who were mildly exposed, according to research in the October issue of IJCP, the International Journal of Clinical Practice.
The study also found that women who were up to seven-years-old during that period had a three times higher risk of developing breast cancer than women who were aged 14 years or over.
Sixty-five women diagnosed with breast cancer between 2005 and 2010 were compared with 200 controls without breast cancer. All the women lived in Israel. The women with breast cancer were recruited from five medical centres and the controls were members of various organisations for Jewish World War Two survivors.
"The women who took part in our study had all lived under Nazi control for at least six months" explains Dr Neomi Vin-Raviv from the School of Public Health at the University of Haifa, Israel. "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.
"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."
Key findings of the study included:
"The link between restricted calorie intake and cancer is a complex one" says Dr Vin-Raviv. "Several theories are discussed in our paper, but further research into the biological mechanisms are needed.
"What is clear from our study is that there was a clear association between severe hunger and breast cancer in Jewish survivors and that the women who were seven years old or younger during the War were the most affected group.
"These findings are of relevance not only to World War Two survivors, but to other communities that may be currently exposed to restricted calorie intakes."
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