Abused Kids Face Higher Cancer Risk

'Fight or flight' hormone may play a role, researcher suggests

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THURSDAY, June 25, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Adults who experienced physical abuse as children are more likely to develop cancer than those who weren't abused, according to a Canadian study.

The University of Toronto researchers concluded that childhood physical abuse is associated with a 49 percent increased risk of cancer in adulthood. Even after taking into account potentially major health factors -- childhood stressors, adult socioeconomic status and adult behaviors such as smoking, alcohol consumption and lack of physical activity -- the association between childhood abuse and cancer remained significant, they found.

A number of psychophysiological factors could help explain the link between childhood physical abuse and cancer, suggested study co-author and doctoral student Sarah Brennenstuhl.

"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," she said in a news release from the university.

"Few talk about childhood physical abuse and cancer in the same breath," Esme Fuller-Thomson, of the University of Toronto's faculty of social work and department of family and community medicine, said in the news release. "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 is in the July 15 issue of the journal Cancer.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics has more about child abuse.

SOURCE: University of Toronto, news release, June 25, 2009

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