My late father, a Holocaust survivor who worked as a pneumonologist (lung specialist), used to say: Statistics are like bikinis: they hide the information you’re most interested in. This has never been more true than in the newest study claiming that exposure to Holocaust traumas may give cancer to survivors.
These kinds of medical assault on common sense and scientific rigor show up in the news all the time. Therefore, understanding the nonsense here, may also help to put other sensational “medical findings” in the media in perspective.
I did not read, let alone analyze, the complete text of this study (and saved myself $6). I only saw a nonsense news article about it and its original summary. That was enough, frankly. (It called an elevation from 16% to 22% an increase of 6%, while that is rather a 37.5% increase. Another news report that I found later, presumed that the colon and long cancers mentioned were additional to the total of cancer occurrences, while they of course were just its itemization.)
The scientific magazine Cancer is “Published on behalf of the American Cancer Society,” appears 24 times a year and is peer-reviewed. The latter qualification should guarantee some quality, but that doesn’t mean that it must be perfect or trusted.
The study found an elevation only for the risk of colorectal cancer and lung cancer, but no increase in any other malignancy. (Let’s now for argument’s sake assume that this is the result of sound statistics.)
Medical statistical surveys are set up to spot possible causes, but chance-based correlation never gives illness. Rather, the causes are still – well: causal. And everyone knows that those two malignancies here are mainly caused by diet and cigarette smoking, respectively.
In other words: one doesn’t get cancer from the Holocaust if one does not use tobacco and eats well.
I won’t blame Holocaust survivors, perish the thought, for doing the unhealthy thing. Blaming the victim is not the thing to do. But if this wide and expensive (two grants) study shows anything, then it is that extreme emotional and physical stress does not give cancer. That’s the diametrical opposite of the authors’ conclusion.
They (supposedly) had it all worked out statistically but failed to see the wood for the trees. Smart but not wise. Just as my father said.
Most probably, survivors live longer: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. As long as you don’t smoke cigarettes and eat your veggies.