Childhood adversity, such as poverty, loss of a parent, and dysfunctional family dynamics, has long been recognized as a significant risk factor for a range of adverse health outcomes. Recent research suggests that exposure to environmental and behavioral hazards during childhood may interfere with normal biological functions and affect cancer care and outcomes.
According to recent research published in The Lancet Regional Health, cancers in adolescents and young adults are rising and contribute substantially to the global disease burden. However, the causes and consequences of cancers in this age group remain understudied. Adolescence and early adult life are major life transitions that can negatively affect the timeliness of diagnosis and adherence to treatment, making it essential to understand the cancer burden and associated risk factors in this age group.
Previous studies have suggested a higher risk of cancer associated with childhood adversity, including abuse and financial difficulties within the family. The results from individual studies were heterogeneous, and few studies included individuals below the age of 40 years, and none specifically addressed cancers among adolescents and young adults. Therefore, there is a clear need for further investigations into the effect of childhood adversity on adolescent and young adult cancer incidence and mortality.
Cancer is a heterogeneous group of diseases with different underlying etiologies. Childhood adversity may affect specific subtypes of cancer differently through an impact on behavioral factors, infections, and environmental factors. Childhood adversity may also impact cancer survival through socially patterned differences in biological susceptibility, access to support and care, and treatment adherence.
To address these hypotheses, researchers use unselected nationwide data on 1.2 million individuals followed-up from age 16-38 to test the relationship between childhood adversity and cancer incidence and outcomes. They are assessing the relationship between childhood adversity and the four most common types of cancer in this age group among women and men separately.
By understanding the impact of childhood adversity on cancer risk and outcomes in adolescents and young adults, researchers hope to identify potential areas for intervention and support for those who have experienced such adversity.
A study based on life-course data from a population of 1.2 million men and women has shown that adolescents and young adults face a considerable cancer burden. The study hypothesized that childhood adversity would impact different subtypes of cancer differently. The findings showed that young women who experienced persistent material deprivation during childhood had a slightly lower risk of overall cancer incidence, especially due to malignant melanoma and brain and CNS cancers, and a slightly higher risk of breast cancer.
Women exposed to childhood adversity across various dimensions also carried a moderately higher risk of breast and cervical cancer. However, there were no clear associations between childhood adversity and overall cancer for men.
The study also found that men who experienced adversity during childhood carried a disproportionate burden of cancer mortality and case fatality during adolescence or young adulthood compared to their peers. The study highlights the importance of identifying vulnerable subgroups who should be specifically targeted to ensure their treatment and information needs are met.