Parents should improve their skills to avoid skin cancer in children

Ernie Shannon's picture
Left to right, Ronald Glaser and Christopher Fagundes, both of Ohio State's Inst
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For several decades studies have suggested a strong link between the level of stress in a person's life and its impact on immunity. The latest research strengthens those suspicions and points to a possible relationship between maltreatment in a young person’s life and skin cancer.

Investigators at the Ohio State University’s Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research found people whose childhood includes periods of neglect are at a greater risk of skin cancer later in life. The instances of stress caused by the bad treatment can lead to a lower level of immune response throughout the remainder of their lives and, in the case of the Ohio State University research, can allow a form of skin cancer – basal cell carcinoma (BCC) - to develop. The work appears in the June 4 issue of the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.

The researchers looked at 91 men and women who previously had a BCC and each was given a battery of surveys and interviews including questions regarding their relationship with their parents. Meanwhile, tissue from the participants’ tumors was tested for four types of messenger RNA, markers that measure the intensity of the individual’s immune response to the tumors. The results revealed that BCC patients who had a severe, stressful life event in the last year and who had experienced neglect or maltreatment from their mothers as children, had a substantial decline in their immune response to the tumors.

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“This is the first study to show that troubled early parental experiences in combination with a severe life event can predict local immune responses to a BCC tumor”, wrote Christopher Fagundes, first author of the paper and a postdoctoral fellow at the IBMR. “This expands the growing evidence that the consequences of early parental experiences extend well beyond childhood.”

Fagundes explained that those people in the top 25 percent of maltreatment by their mothers saw a 350 percent reduction in immunity compared to the bottom 25 percent. He also said that neglect from the father showed a 140 percent drop in immunity.
The findings are likely to be significant beyond just their role with BCC patients according to Ron Glaser, a co-author and director of Ohio State’s Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research. Glasser, a professor of molecular virology, immunology and medical genetics, pointed to other immunogenic cancers that might be affected.

“If the immune system is down-regulated, it will affect a person’s ability to deal with that tumor,” he said. “Some examples of other immunogenic tumors include ovarian cancer, head and neck cancers, melanoma, some lymphomas and tumors induced by cancer viruses, and renal cell tumor.”

The researchers hope to continue the work and determine what mechanisms are responsible for the continued lower immune response.

Image: Left to right, Ronald Glaser and Christopher Fagundes, both of Ohio State's Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research.

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