There might be significant associations between socioeconomic status (SES) during childhood and chances of being diagnosed with certain cancers, including cervical cancer, according to a study conducted by the Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at the University of Utah.
The study, “Baby Boomers and Birth Certificates: Early Life Socioeconomic Status and Cancer Risk in Adulthood,” published in Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention, looked into variables such as average neighborhood income and parental occupation for people born between 1945 and 1959.
The Utah researchers, along with collaborators from Rutgers University in New Jersey and Temple University in Philadelphia, used the Utah Cancer Registry and the Utah Population Database (UPDB) from which they could access raw data like family trees, birth and death certificates, driver’s license data, and hospitalization records. The study focused on people who were born in Salt Lake and Weber counties and who remained Utah residents at least until age 18.
Analysis of the HCI research concluded that the association between socioeconomic status (SES) and the appearance of cancer seems to be cancer type specific. Some cancers appeared in greater frequency in people who had low SES during childhood, while others were statistically more likely to occur in individuals with higher SES.
Specifically, children born to parents with high occupational status had an increased risk for melanoma, female breast cancer, and prostate cancer, whereas the risk for cervical cancer was less among the group.
Associations with cancer and neighborhood income were also analyzed. In comparison, people who grew up in lower economic neighborhoods were less likely to get prostate cancer and melanoma but more likely to get cervical cancer.
No associations were found in pancreas, lung, and colon and rectal cancers.
But according the lead author of the study Ken Smith, PhD, population health researcher at HCI and professor of family studies and population science at the University of Utah, participation in cancer screening – or lack of it among people from low income status groups – could also explain the significant difference for a person’s risk of eventually being diagnosed with cancer. Still, a child’s living conditions and experiences, largely impacted by SES, can lay the foundation for health issues later in life — including cancer.
“This study shows that early-life socioeconomic status, based on factors such as parental occupation at birth, may be associated with cancer risk in adulthood,” Smith said in a news release. “Using this information, we may be able to identify individuals who are at higher risk for cancer due to socioeconomic status at birth, and ideally, work to find strategies to help them manage their cancer risk in adulthood.”