Socioeconomic Status & Cancer

What your parents did for a living, and where you lived, when you were born not only have an overall effect on your life – as you might reasonably expect – but could actually determine what specific types of cancer you will contract. That is the conclusion of researchers from the University of Utah, Rutgers University, and Temple University. The scientists analyzed cancer risk and socioeconomic status of people born between 1945 and 1959 in two Utah counties.

The main tool the researchers used was the Utah Population Database, a unique computerized research resource that contains genealogies, Utah birth and death certificates, hospitalization records, and driver’s license data.

The study revealed that men born to parents with high occupational standing were more likely to suffer from melanoma and prostate cancer and that women were at greater risk from breast cancer. Women born in poor neighborhoods were at greatest risk of invasive cervical cancer,  but men born into the same socioeconomic stratum were at lower risk of prostate cancer. The risk of melanoma in poor neighborhoods for both sexes was also lower than in more well-to-do birthplaces.

“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. 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,” wrote senior author Ken Smith, PhD, a population health researcher at Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah.

The science behind all this may reside in the association between socioeconomic status and breast, cervical, and prostate cancer screening. Smith also noted that he importance of critical periods in a child’s development may be affected by exposures and living conditions that can lay the foundation for later cancer risk and contribute to social differences in cancer risk.

The results of this study were published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention.