The Impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences and Toxic Stress on Cancer Risk

Cancer Prevention Across the Lifespan

Adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood (0-17 years). Examples include experiencing violence, abuse, or neglect; witnessing violence in the home or community; or having a family member attempt or die by suicide. ACEs are more than interpersonal trauma, and include trauma in the childā€™s environment, such as growing up in a household with substance use and/or mental health problems, instability due to parental separation, or household members being in jail or prison (CDC).

ACEs have been linked to increased risk for alcohol and substance use disorders, suicide, mental health conditions, and health risk behaviors throughout life. The toxic stress caused by ACEs and the resulting increased risk for heavy alcohol use, tobacco use, injection drug use, obesity, and risky sexual behaviors all contribute to increased risk of a variety of cancers.

Cancer prevention begins in childhood. The following are some ways to create safe, stable, and nurturing relationships and communities.

  • States and communities can support policies that provide economic support for families to decrease the stress in peopleā€™s lives.
  • Communities can help reduce stigma around seeking help with parenting challenges or substance dependence, depression, or suicidal thoughts.
  • Communities can provide high-quality childcare and preschool enrichment programs with family engagement.
  • Parents and caregivers can teach children and youth skills to handle stress, resolve conflicts, and manage their emotions.
  • Communities can connect youth with activities and caring adults through mentoring and after-school programs.
  • Health agencies can help educate people about the long-term effects of adverse childhood experiences on health, including cancer risk, and provide services that lessen the harm.
  • Health care teams and providers can use a trauma-informed approach that takes into consideration a patientā€™s past and present life situation in order to provide effective health services.

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