People who experience trauma in childhood are more likely to pick up dangerous habits like smoking and contract lung cancer later in life as a result, say the authors of a new study in BMC Public Health. The researchers note, however, that the link is only partly explained by raised rates of cigarette smoking in victims of childhood trauma, suggesting that other factors may also be to blame.

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

According to lead author David Brown, "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".

The central message of this study is that our children can be faced with a terrible burden of stressors. These stressors are associated with harmful behaviors, such as smoking, that may lead the development of diseases like lung cancer and perhaps death at younger ages. Reducing the burden of adverse childhood experiences should therefore be considered in health and social programs as a means of primary prevention of lung cancer and other smoking-related diseases.

Citation: David W Brown et al., 'Adverse childhood experiences are associated with the risk of lung cancer: a prospective cohort study',  BMC Public Health (in press)