A new study has linked adverse events in childhood to an increase in the likelihood of developing lung cancer in later life in. The researchers explain how the link is partially explained by raised rates of cigarette smoking in victims of childhood trauma, but they note that other factors may also be to blame.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) researchers studied the effects of abuse (emotional, physical, sexual); witnessing domestic violence; parental separation; or growing up in a household where people were mentally ill, substance abusers, or sent to prison.

"Adverse childhood experiences were associated with an increased risk of lung cancer, particularly premature death from lung cancer. Although smoking behaviors, including early smoking initiation and heavy smoking, account for the greater part of this risk, other mechanisms or pathophysiologic pathways may be involved," said researcher David Brown, PhD.

Adverse event information was collected from 17,337 people between 1995 and 1997. In 2005 Brown and colleagues followed up on the medical records of the participants to study lung cancer rates.

"Compared to those who claimed no childhood trauma, people who experienced six or more traumas were about three times more likely to have lung cancer, identified either through hospitalization records or mortality records. Of the people who developed, or died of, lung cancer, those with six or more adverse events in childhood were roughly 13 years younger at presentation than those with none. People who had experienced more adverse events in childhood showed more smoking behaviors,” said Brown.

The study appears in the open access journal BMC Public Health.