ScienceDaily (July 17, 2012) — Frequent abuse by a parent can increase a child's cancer risk in adulthood, and the effects are especially significant when mothers abuse their daughters and fathers abuse their sons, according to new research from Purdue University.
"People often say that children are resilient and they'll bounce back, but we found that there are events that can have long-term consequences on adult health," said Kenneth Ferraro, distinguished professor of sociology and director of Purdue's Center on Aging and the Life Course. "In this case, people who were frequently emotionally or physically abused by their parents were more likely to have cancer in adulthood, and the link was greater when fathers abused sons and mothers abused daughters. Overall, the more frequent and intense the abuse, the more it elevated the cancer risk.
"We would like to see child abuse noted as an environmental factor that can increase cancer occurrence in adulthood. More research on this topic also could help mediate the effects or improve interventions to help abused children."
"We started examining a variety of childhood misfortunes, including abuse, and when these were all combined, we found that men with the most stressors during childhood were more likely to develop cancer," Morton said. "Second, we found that when children were abused by their same-sex parent, it increased their cancer risk."
The researchers can't say exactly why that is, but a possible reason is the effect of the greater social bond between same-sex children and parents.
"Other studies have shown that if a mother smokes, the daughter is more likely to smoke, and the same relationship is found when sons mirror their father's behavior," Morton said. "More research is needed, but another possibility is that men may be more likely to physically abuse their sons, and mothers are more likely to physically abuse their daughters."
"It also is likely," Ferraro said, "that the effect between child abuse and cancer is underrepresented in our study, because people who suffered abuse and were then incarcerated, placed in a mental institution or died were not included in this survey of adults. These groups may represent people with more acute and severe effects from abuse, and even though they are omitted, we still find a link."