Can what happens to you as a child affect your immune system and the ability to fight off cancer as an adult? According to researchers, the answer could be yes.
We’ve all heard the saying that children are like sponges and can soak up what happens all around them. Now, it appears that children who experience neglect or maltreatment might have diminished immune systems for life.
Of particular note, their bodies might have a hard time fighting off skin cancer as adults.
Research and risk
Scientists at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center published recently in the Archives of General Psychiatry focused their study on basal cell carcinoma (BCC) — which is considered a fairly benign form of skin cancer, and one of the most common.
Basal cell tumors are often successfully fought off by a person’s immune system. But the research suggests that adults who were exposed to stress early in life, and who have gone through a recent stressful situation, had a drop in their immune response to this type of cancer.
“This is the first study to show that troubled early parental experiences, in combination with a severe life event in the past year, predict local immune responses to a BCC tumor,” wrote Christopher Fagundes, an author of the report and postdoctoral fellow at the university’s Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research (IBMR).
Keep an eye on your health
Ron Glaser, a co-author and director of the IBMR, noted that other immunogenic cancers might be affected. “If the immune system is down-regulated, it will affect a person’s ability to deal with that tumor,” he said. Glaser noted other examples of immunogenic tumors include ovarian cancer, head and neck cancers, and melanoma.
One warning: Adults who had gone through these types of situations and have also experienced recent stressful life event, should be especially diligent with their health. Support for this research came from the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society.