Research from WWII shows a link between extreme hunger as a child, and the development of breast cancer.

Recently some interesting information relating to breast cancer came to light. It seems that Jewish women who suffered sever hunger during WWII were five times more likely to develop breast cancer.

The October issue of International Journal of Clinical Practice printed the study’s results, which found that those women who were seven or younger during this time were three times more likely to develop breast cancer than those who were were over the age of 14.

From 2005 to 2010 there were 65 women that developed breast cancer all living in Israel. These women were recruited from 5 medical centers of various organizations for Jewish WWII 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.

Key findings of the study included:

  • The average age of women interviewed with breast cancer was 76.2 years and 78.3 years for the 200 controls.
  • Women diagnosed with breast cancer tended to be obese whereas the women in the control group tended to be overweight. There were no other significant differences in the groups.
  • 49.2% of the women with breast cancer were 7 years old or less at the time of WWII and 12% of the women with breast cancer were born during the War.
  • 61.5% of the women with breast cancer experienced severe hunger, compared with 37% of the women without breast cancer. 17% experienced moderate hunger and 21.5 % had mild hunger.
  • The odds of developing breast cancer were five times higher in women with severe hunger than mild hunger.

The link between restricted calories and breast cancer

“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.

Poor nutrition in childhood not in our control

It’s clear from this study that there is some type of link between severe hunger and the development of breast cancer. How researchers will use this information moving forward remains to be seen. This is rather interesting research since we have also seen research that indicated being overweight could contribute to the development of breast cancer. However, remember these incidents of extreme calorie restriction actually occurred when these women were children, and many of these women were obese as adults with breast cancer.

Researchers will be taking this information and moving forward with it to see if there were similar links in severe calorie restriction and breast cancer in women from a different background. Could it be that the restriction in calories results in a lack of critical nutrients that can fight off cancer genes.

There’s likely to be a great deal more research into this new found information. For women it can be a be a bit confusing about what we should or should not do. In addition, if this study proves to be of significance it would indicate the what sets us up for breast cancer may actually occur at a time when we don’t have a lot of control over our nutrition.