Cancer is Israel’s biggest killer, though death rate is among lowest in world

Arab Israelis more than twice as likely to die from man-made causes — accidents, murders, suicides — than Jewish Israelis, official figures show

Illustrative: An elderly man crosses the street in Tel Aviv, May 20, 2009. (Serge Attal/Flash90)
Illustrative: An elderly man crosses the street in Tel Aviv, May 20, 2009. (Serge Attal/Flash90)

New figures for mortality in Israel reveal that the biggest killer of Israelis is cancer, followed by heart disease and diabetes.

Though cancer is the number-one killer, the rate of cancer deaths in the country is among the lowest in the world, at 177.1 deaths for every 100,000 people, just behind Japan, Finland, South Korea, Turkey and Mexico, according to a report published Wednesday by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics.

By comparison, cancer deaths claim 185.3 Americans in every 100,000 and 217.7 Britons.

The report analyzes all deaths in Israel in 2016.

In that year, 43,966 residents of the country died: 25.2 percent claimed by cancer, 14.6% by heart disease, 5.8% by infectious diseases, 5.2% by diabetes and 5.2% by strokes. Less common causes of death included kidney disease (3.8%), respiratory diseases (2.8%) and pneumonia (2.6%).

Counted together, human-caused deaths in traffic and other accidents, suicides and murders accounted for 4.1% of deaths, or 1,816 Israelis in 2016.

The report reveals improvements in some branches of medicine and overall healthcare. For example, the steady decline in heart-related deaths that began in the 1990s, when heart disease claimed more lives each year than cancer, is continuing apace. Cancer deaths, too, are declining slightly over time.

At the same time, the percentage of Israelis dying from diabetes each year is rising.

The figures underline some of the country’s social challenges, with the Arab minority suffering from higher rates of deadly accidents and crime. An Arab in Israel is almost twice as likely as a Jewish Israeli to die from man-made causes, which claimed 6.9% of Arab deaths in 2016 compared to 3.6% of Jewish deaths.

Jews are more likely to die of cancer than Arabs, with 25.4% of Jewish deaths in 2017 due to the disease, compared to 21.4% of Arab deaths — a gap due in part to the fact that the Arab population is slightly younger on average than the Jewish population.

The causes of death change at different age groups. Cancer is the leading cause of death from age 45 to 85, but for children under 18 the leading cause, accounting for 25.9% of deaths, is accidents. Among 18- to 24-year-olds, one leading cause is suicide.

The leading cause of death for the oldest Israelis, those over 85, is heart disease.

The top cause of death — cancer — strikes men and women differently, the CBS report finds, with men more likely to be felled by lung cancer and women by breast cancer.

Between 1998 and 2006, lung cancer accounted for 24.1% of Israeli men’s deaths from cancer, followed by cancer of the colon, rectum or anus (11.2%), and pancreatic cancer (9.1%).

For women during that period, the leading killer among cancers was breast cancer (20.9%), lung cancer (11.7%), and cancer of the colon, rectum or anus (10.8%).

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