Childhood experiences of parenting and cancer risk at older ages: findings from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA)

Int J Public Health. 2018 Sep;63(7):823-832. doi: 10.1007/s00038-018-1117-3. Epub 2018 Jun 14.


Objectives: Despite the importance of childhood experiences for adult health and psychosocial factors for cancer development, parenting, a key childhood psychosocial exposure, has yet to be studied in relation to cancer risk at older ages. We examined whether childhood experiences of poor-quality parenting are associated with an increased risk of cancer at older ages.

Methods: We used a sample of 4471 community dwellers aged ≥ 55 years in 2007. Poor-quality parenting was defined as low levels of parental care and high levels of parental overprotection.

Results: Overall poorer experiences of parenting, decreasing parental care and increasing parental overprotection were associated with increased risk of incident all-site and skin cancer in men, but not in women. Increasing paternal overprotection was also associated with increased risk of incident colorectal cancer in men. Overall poorer experiences of parenting and increasing paternal overprotection were associated with increased risk of prevalent all-site and colorectal cancer in women. Adjustment for covariates explained a small part of these associations.

Conclusions: Older adults who reported childhood experiences of poorer quality parenting appear to have an increased risk of cancer. These findings improve our understanding of the role of psychosocial factors in cancer over the life course.

Keywords: Aging; Cancer; Childhood; Cohort; Life course; Parenting; Stress.

MeSH terms

  • England / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Parenting / psychology*
  • Prevalence
  • Risk
  • Sex Distribution