A hospital in Israel.
A hospital in Israel. Photo by Moti Milrod
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A national cancer data bank is soon to be established in Israel, after the Health Ministry awarded rights to operate it to four hospitals: Hadassah, Sheba, Ichilov and Rambam.

The hospitals, located respectively in Jerusalem, Tel Hashomer, Tel Aviv and Haifa, will collect cancer samples for use in examining possible connections between exposure to various substances and incidence of the disease.

The data bank will be based on samples of cancerous tumors and tissue taken from Israeli patients during biopsy procedures, but which are not needed for diagnostic purposes. The tissues will be stored in a way that enables them to be monitored over a long period.

During the early years of the project, the hospitals will be required to collect at least 450 tissue samples a year.

The government will allocate NIS 35.6 million for the project, via the ministries of industry, trade and labor; finance; and science and technology; as well as the Council for Higher Education's planning and budgeting committee. The Health Ministry will manage the project.

"Tissue samples will be stored in a national bank, contingent upon authorization provided by patients," said Dr. Karen Meir, a senior pathologist and manager of the tissue bank at Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem. "Clinical and pathological case histories of the patients will be stored as well, but case histories that are made accessible to researchers and doctors will not cite patient names.

Researchers who examine the tissue samples will have access to data such as the patient's age and sex, the type of cancer, the stage of the disease and whether the condition was terminal, but the patient's identity will remain classified."

"There are tissue banks of this sort in Western countries today, and in many cases, Israeli researchers have to use these overseas data banks, and that is regrettable," Meir said.

The Health Ministry reported recently that incidence of prostate cancer has risen sharply among men over the last decade, as has incidence of lung cancer and thyroid cancer among women. The good news is that cancer fatality rates fell 13.2 percent in the same period.