Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
Psychology, Medicine, Science, Politics, Oppression, Integrity, Philosophy, Jews

Statistics and an elevated cancer risk for Holocaust survivors?

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.

About the Author
MM is a prolific and creative writer and thinker, a daily blog contributor to the TOI. He is a fetal survivor of the pharmaceutical industry (, born in 1953 to two Dutch survivors who met in the largest concentration camp in the Netherlands, Westerbork, and holds a BA in medicine (University of Amsterdam). He taught Re-evaluation Co-counseling, became a social activist, became religious, made Aliyah, and raised three wonderful kids. He wrote an unpublished tome about Jewish Free Will. He's a strict vegan since 2008. He's an Orthodox Jew but not a rabbi. * His most influential teachers (chronologically) are: his parents, Nico (natan) van Zuiden and Betty (beisye) Nieweg, Wim Kan, Mozart, Harvey Jackins, Marshal Rosenberg, Reb Shlomo Carlebach and lehavdiel bein chayim lechayim: Rabbi Dr. Natan Lopes Cardozo, Rav Zev Leff and Rav Meir Lubin. * Previously, for decades, he was known to the Jerusalem Post readers as a frequent letter writer. For a couple of years he wrote hasbara for the Dutch public. His fields of attention now are varied: Psychology (including Sexuality and Abuse), Medicine (including physical immortality), Science (statistics), Politics (Israel, the US and the Netherlands, Activism - more than leftwing or rightwing, he hopes to highlight Truth), Oppression and Liberation (intersectionally, for young people, the elderly, non-Whites, women, workers, Jews, GLBTQAI, foreigners and anyone else who's dehumanized or exploited), Integrity, Philosophy, Jews (Judaism, Zionism, Holocaust and Jewish Liberation), Ecology and Veganism. Sometimes he's misunderstood because he has such a wide vision that never fits any specialist's box. But that's exactly what many love about him. Many of his posts relate to affairs from the news or the Torah Portion of the Week or are new insights that suddenly befell him. * He hopes that his words will inspire and inform, reassure the doubters but make the self-assured doubt more. He strives to bring a fresh perspective rather than bore you with the obvious. He doesn't expect his readers to agree. Rather, original minds must be disputed. In short, his main political positions are: anti-Trumpism, for Zionism, Intersectionality, non-violence, democracy, anti the fake peace process, for original-Orthodoxy, Science, Free Will, anti blaming-the-victim and for down-to-earth optimism. Read his blog how he attempts to bridge any discrepancies. He admits sometimes exaggerating to make a point, which could have him come across as nasty, while in actuality, he's quit a lovely person to interact with. He holds - how Dutch - that a strong opinion doesn't imply intolerance of other views. * His writing has been made possible by an allowance for second generation Holocaust survivors from the Netherlands. It has been his dream since he was 38 to try to make a difference by teaching through writing. He had three times 9-out-of-10 for Dutch at his high school finals but is spending his days communicating in English and Hebrew - how ironic. G-d must have a fine sense of humor. In case you wonder - yes, he is a bit dyslectic. November 13, 2018, he published his 500st blog post with the ToI. If you're a native English speaker and wonder why you should read from people whose English is only their second language, consider the advantage of having a peek outside of your cultural bubble. * NEW: To see other blog posts by him, his overspill blog you can reach by clicking on the Website icon next to his picture at the head of every post. There you may find precursors to later TOI blog posts, addition or corrections of published TOI blog posts, blog posts the TOI will not carry and some thoughts that are too short to be a TOI blog post. Also, the TOI only allows for one blog post per blogger per 24 hours. Sometimes, he has more to say than that. * To send any personal reaction to him, scroll to the top of the blog post and click Contact Me.
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