Cancer Cases Among Israeli Men Lower Than Women, Data Shows

For the past 25 years, the cancer morbidity rate among women has been steady at 275 cases per 100,000, while more recently for men that number has dropped to 250 cases per 100,000

File photo: A lab technician performs a "liquid biopsy" on samples of possible cancer cells.
Anthony Kwan/Bloomberg

The incidence of cancer among Israeli men is declining. Since 2012, the percentage of men diagnosed with invasive cancers has been lower than the percentage of women. The change comes after two decades during which the incidence of cancer in men was higher than in women.

This data, which emerged from an analysis of cancer morbidity figures from 1990 to 2014, was presented by the Israel Cancer Association and the Health Ministry on Tuesday in anticipation of the ICA’s Door Knock fundraising campaign next week.

For the past 25 years, the cancer morbidity rate among women has been steady at 275 cases per 100,000; a third of the cases are breast cancer, followed by lung and colon cancer. Among men, the three most common cases are lung, colon and prostate cancer. Around 15 years ago the incidence of cancer diagnosis among men shot up to more than 300 cases per 100,000. It subsequently began to decline, a trend that is still continuing, with the current rate showing 250 incidents of cancer per 100,000 men.

A similar phenomenon can be seen in other countries. According to the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the frequency of cancer among men has dropped over the past 15 years to some 200 cases per 100,000; there was also a decline among women, but it was more moderate.

According to Prof. Lital Keinan-Boker, deputy director of the Israeli Center for Disease Control at the Health Ministry, who presented the findings, the general drop in the incidence of invasive cancers among men is due to dramatic reductions in the frequency of colon and prostate cancers in recent years. The incidence of colon cancer has fallen from 43 cases per 100,000 men to less than 30, while the prostate cancer cases have dropped from 80 per 100,000 men to 40.

“With regard to colon cancer, there is increased awareness, and in 2005 a national program was introduced to screen for occult blood in the stool, with those who tested positive referred for a colonoscopy,” said Keinan-Boker. “We also see a decrease in prostate cancer. In women, however, breast cancer cases have been stable for the past 25 years,” despite increased awareness, public campaigns and better diagnostic tools.

“When you catch colon cancer in time, when it’s still at the precancerous stage, you remove it and prevent it,” explains Prof. Siegal Sadetzki, director of the cancer unit at the Gertner Institute for Epidemiology and Health Policy Research. “With breast cancer, however, when you find it, it’s already there and the hope is to reduce its mortality. Discovering the illness doesn’t reduce the number of cases but improves the chances of treatment and recovery.”

She added: “When talking about cancer, it’s hard – if not impossible – to attribute the decrease to any specific factor. Cancer is a disease with many variables. Genetics is also a risk factor although it influences very few tumors – five to 10 percent of them. Most of the risk factors involve the environment and lifestyle.”

Cancer remains Israel’s No. 1 cause of death, and the battle against it continues on all fronts: public information campaigns, examinations, efforts to encourage a healthier lifestyle and medical research. According to statistics presented by Prof. Eliezer Robinson, chairman of the ICA, there are now 284,000 Israelis recovering from cancer. The definition of “recovering” includes essentially anyone who’s been treated for cancer. Sixty percent of the former patients were diagnosed five years ago or more.

“A previous study based on the registration in the central cancer database found that over the past 50 years, the number of cancer patients has quintupled because of longer life expectancy, aging and population growth, and yet the number of those who recover has gone up nine times. In other words, more patients are joining the group of ‘recoverers,’” he said.

According to a new study conducted by Robinson and Prof. Laurence Freedman, head of the Gertner Institute's biostatistics unit, in conjunction with the American National Cancer Institute, the number of Israelis recovering from cancer is expected to grow by more than 10,000 people a year and to reach 329,000 in 2020 and 380,000 in 2024. These numbers represent a far greater increase than the expected natural increase of Israel’s population.