Cancer Causes & Control

, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 499–506 | Cite as

Loss of a parent and the risk of cancer in early life: a nationwide cohort study

  • Beatrice Kennedy
  • Unnur Valdimarsdóttir
  • Karin Sundström
  • Pär Sparén
  • Mats Lambe
  • Katja Fall
  • Fang Fang
Original Paper

Abstract

Background

While early-life exposure to stress has been associated with subsequent psychiatric and cardiovascular morbidity, little is known regarding its potential role in cancer development. We hypothesized that severe emotional stress, such as the loss of a parent through death during childhood, may increase the risk of cancer in early life.

Method

Based on the Swedish Multi-Generation Register, we identified a cohort of 4,219,691 individuals who had both parents identifiable in the same register and followed the cohort from birth to the age of 40 years between 1961 and 2006. Through information retrieved from the Swedish Causes of Death and Cancer Registers, we ascertained death among the parents and cancer diagnosis among the cohort individuals. We used Poisson regression to calculate the relative risks (RRs) and 95 % confidence intervals (CIs).

Results

Parental death was not associated with total cancer risk. However, parental death during childhood was associated with a higher risk of human papillomavirus (HPV) infection-related cancers (RR 1.4; 95 % CI 1.2–1.7), and loss during early adulthood (>18 years) entailed a higher risk of cancers of the stomach (RR 1.8; 95 % CI 1.3–2.6), lung (RR 1.7; 95 % CI 1.1–2.4), rectum (RR 1.4; 95 % CI 1.0–2.0), and breast (RR 1.1; 95 % CI 1.0–1.3). A significant association was observed for pancreatic cancer for both loss during childhood (RR 2.6; 95 % CI 1.6–4.2) and afterward (RR 2.8; 95 % CI 1.9–4.3).

Conclusion

Our results suggest that severe psychological stress in early life may be associated with premature development of certain malignancies, particularly cancers related to smoking and HPV infection.

Keywords

Sweden/epidemiology Cohort studies Psychological stress Neoplasms/epidemiology/etiology HPV/infection Risk 

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Beatrice Kennedy
    • 1
  • Unnur Valdimarsdóttir
    • 2
  • Karin Sundström
    • 3
  • Pär Sparén
    • 3
  • Mats Lambe
    • 3
    • 4
  • Katja Fall
    • 1
    • 2
  • Fang Fang
    • 3
  1. 1.Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics Unit, School of Health and Medical SciencesÖrebro University and Örebro University HospitalÖrebroSweden
  2. 2.Faculty of Medicine, Centre of Public Health Sciences, School of Health SciencesUniversity of IcelandReykjavíkIceland
  3. 3.Department of Medical Epidemiology and BiostatisticsKarolinska InstitutetStockholmSweden
  4. 4.Regional Cancer CentreUppsala University HospitalUppsalaSweden

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