Public Release:  Childhood physical abuse linked to cancer

Childhood physical abuse is associated with elevated rates of cancer in adulthood, according to a new study by University of Toronto researchers.

University of Toronto

TORONTO, ON. - Childhood physical abuse is associated with elevated rates of cancer in adulthood, according to a new study by University of Toronto researchers.

The study, to be published July 15 in the journal Cancer, shows those individuals physically abused in childhood are more likely to develop cancer than those who have not been abused. Childhood physical abuse is associated with 49 per cent higher odds of cancer in adulthood, says Esme Fuller-Thomson of U of T's Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work and Department of Family and Community Medicine.

"Few talk about childhood physical abuse and cancer in the same breath," says Fuller-Thomson. "From a public health perspective, it's extremely important that clinicians be aware of the full range of risk factors for cancer. This research provides important new knowledge about a potential childhood abuse-cancer relationship."

The study's findings showed the association between childhood abuse and cancer remained significant even after controlling for three major potentially confounding factors: childhood stressors, adult health behaviors (i.e. smoking, physical inactivity, alcohol consumption) and adult socioeconomic status.

Co-author Sarah Brennenstuhl, a doctoral student at Uof T, notes that various psychophysiological factors could help to explain the link between childhood physical abuse and cancer. "One important avenue for future research is to investigate dysfunctions in cortisol production - the hormone that prepares us for 'fight or flight' -as a possible mediator in the abuse-cancer relationship."

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