Childhood neglect increases skin cancer risk

June 13, 2012

A new study suggests patients with basal cell carcinoma (BCC) who experienced a recent, severe stressful life event and who experienced childhood emotional abuse are more likely to have poorer immune responses to the disease.

Columbus, Ohio - A new study suggests patients with basal cell carcinoma (BCC) who experienced a recent, severe stressful life event and who experienced childhood emotional abuse are more likely to have poorer immune responses to the disease.

A research team from the Ohio State University Medical College studied 48 men and 43 women, ages 23 to 92, who had a previous BCC tumor, compiling information about early parent-child experiences, recent severe life events and depression, MedPage Today reports. The researchers found that those who had been emotionally maltreated by their parents and who had experienced a recent severe life event had poorer immune responses to their BCC tumors.

At the same time, emotional maltreatment was unrelated to BCC responses among those who had not experienced a stressful life event, the researchers noted.

Study authors said stressful events and the negative emotions generated by them, especially early in life, can dysregulate immunity, producing clinically significant changes such as impaired response to vaccines, slow wound healing, promotion of inflammation and dampened markers in both innate and adaptive immune function.

The authors noted some study limitations. The patients may have overestimated the degree of emotional mistreatment as children - although, the authors wrote, adults generally downplay childhood abuse and neglect - and the study did not consider other forms of childhood hardship such as low socioeconomic status.

“This is the first study, to our knowledge, 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,” the authors write.

The study was published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

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