There’s no question that for many children, being abused increases their risk of anxiety, depression, academic and behavioral problems, and other mental health issues. But a researcher at Purdue University (in Indiana) just found an unexpected link between child abuse and cancer. Kenneth Ferraro, a sociologist at Purdue’s Center on Aging and the Life Course, and his colleagues found that frequent abuse by a parent increased a child’s risk of developing cancer as an adult.

When we hear the phrase “child abuse,” we have a tendency to think of sexual abuse. But Ferraro defined abuse more broadly, and included factors such as children child having a parent or other person who frequently insulted or swore at them, threatened, threw things at them, hit, pushed, grabbed, chocked, burned, or scalded them.

“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,” Ferraro said. “In this case, people who were frequently emotionally or physically abused by their parents were more likely to have cancer in adulthood. Overall, the more frequent and intense the abuse, the more it elevated the cancer risk.”

The effects were more significant in girls who had been abused by their mother, and in boys who had been abused by their father.
Ferraro and his team are taking their research even further, investigating whether other child abuse may also increase the risk of other health issues, such as heart attacks.

The study was published in the Journal of Aging and Health. You can read an abstract here.