It was hypothesized that the stress of living in an adoptive home or discovering the truth about being adopted created stress that was then responsible for increased risk of disease. Studies of both human cases of adoption or foster care and disease, as well as animal studies related stress and disease, were analyzed for this study. This sample research paper concludes that adopted children suffer consistently higher levels of stress throughout life and are at higher risk of disease, particularly long-term diseases like cancer.
The correlation between adoption and health risks, such as cancer
One of the most stressful events in a person’s life comes from being revealed to that person that he or she is adopted. According to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, some 104,236 children were estimated to be adopted in 2011 and some 245,260 children were in the foster care system. This is a significant amount of individuals that fall into the system of either adoption or foster care.
Additionally, the US mortality rate for cancer has been age-adjusted to a rate of 178.7per 100,000 men and women. The question is asked: is there a link between adopted individuals and those that are diagnosed with cancer? A disproportionate number of patients who had been adopted as children have received cancer treatments, both traditional, and holistic. By looking at the stresses that those who have been adopted have undergone either during the process of adoption, foster care, or being revealed to have been adopted may have a link to the cause of their cancer.
Method of data collection:
The collection of data for the research will be in the form of looking at past studies and experiments and then drawing links between the findings from the past literature on the subject carried out by the researchers. The research takes a look at two major sources of data collection. First, the research will look at the past results of several case studies dealing with the fields of stress related to the likelihood of disease contraction and the relation between foster care and/or adoption to lasting psychological effects.
Additionally, the research will look at the relation from animal studies to human health on cancer progression related to anxiety. The combination of relevant findings from the case studies and experiments carried out will be used as evidence to support the original claim that people adopted as children are at a higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer. From this, a conclusion with further suggestions can be made about the link between those that are adopted and those that are diagnosed with cancer.
Do adopted children run a higher risk for health issues?
One of the universal findings in all of the studies examined was the link that appears to exist between stress and risk of disease contraction. Many of the studies were aimed at looking at individuals levels of anxiety, stress, and depression and then looking at the correlation these factors had on being diagnosed with several diseases, especially different types of cancer.
This is especially relevant when looking at the population of individuals that have been adopted. This group has some of the highest amounts of stress from the time of their adolescence from a variety of different areas such as parental abuse, abandonment, or death, physical or verbal abuse, and being told that they were adopted as an infant. The correlations between those that are adopted and the number of cancer patients seem to be intertwined. The data suggests a definite correlation between being adopted and being diagnosed with cancer.
Discussion of adoption and health data
The first factor that is important to examine is the amount of stress in one’s life. Multiple studies have been performed to examine exactly what role stress plays in an average person’s life. The findings of most of these studies seem to suggest a relatively universal principle. Though stress can be, in small doses, an expected nusance, like when dealing with an important exam, for example. It may be necessary and even a beneficial part of the human psychological experience, too much stress, or distress, can be a problem for a person.
This is particularly true for children. A study on childhood adversity and stress found that the early experiences and environmental influences can have a lasting signature on the genetic predispositions that affect the emerging brain architecture as well as long-term health. This case study went on to
“suggest that many adult diseases should be viewed as development disorders that begin in early life.”
Some groups have higher inherent levels of stress to deal with than others. One of the groups that is subject to the most amount of stress are those that have been either in foster care or are adopted.
Many different studies have looked at the relation between stress and those that are in foster care during their childhood. A study found that foster adolescents tend to have a disproportionately poorer state of physical health, including high rates of obesity compared to children that grow up in a steady home setting. The study found, as is the case for many children that are adopted, this poor health correlation is especially true for children that are
“in group homes, had experienced parental death, or had a history of physical or emotional abuse or attempted suicide.”
However, there is more than just a link from stress to poor health when looking at the adopted/foster care community of children; the correlation seems to be stretched through the population as a whole.
A study performed on mice found a correlation between the levels of stress and anxiety and the growth and development of cancerous tumors. The study saw that the mice under higher amounts of stress and thus living under higher anxiety states have an increased risk of having a lower immune system that can lead directly to the progression of specific types of cancer. 5 In a similar study on the effects of high anxiety in humans, researchers found that adversity in one’s early childhood modifies the relationship between anxiety and mood disorders and cortisol secretion. The study found,
“the experience of early adversities modifies the relationship between anxiety disorders and basal cortisol secretion in adults.”
All of these studies give support to the notion that an increase in traumatic stress at an early age can have varying levels of negative health impacts on adults. For the adopted community this correlation is especially relevant. This group for the greater part has experienced much higher amounts of high-level stress during their childhoods than the average person.
The moving from home to home, loss of parents, potential physical abuse, and other factors all are extremely stressful for children of any age, and the resulting health effects can be severe. However, sometimes the negative health effects are not fully realized until the later stages of adulthood even though they are directly related to the stressful events that occurred within adolescence.
A case study took the look at one of the common traits that those that had been apart of the foster care and adopted community share, the trait of physical and verbal abuse. This study found that those that admitted to being regular beat or verbally abused were linked to higher chance of contracting cancer. The study states
“child abuse and other early life stressors adversely affect adult somatic health,” and that a “stress-inducing parenting style, even when normative, has long-term adverse health consequences.”
What a study like this shows is that the relation between a controllable form of stress can be controlled by those around the child, but also that the child can have negative effects even in a stable environment when exposed to harmful circumstances. This study has a direct influence on those that are adopted or are in foster care considering that an alarmingly high proportion of those children have experienced a form of either verbal or physical abuse and sometimes both. High exposure to these stress filled circumstances can be extremely negative on one’s last physical and emotional health. In fact, two studies have shown just what physical extent these sort of conditions can have on a child’s physical health.
The first study looked at the relation between stressful life events and hospitalization. This case study took at look at children that were identified as having experienced high level stress events in their lives. The study found that stressful life events with parental relations seems to cause an increase in the risk of infectious disease and hospitalization of children, and that at least a 13% increase of risk will occur in children exposed to these types of circumstances. In a large-scale study, researchers looked at the link between psychological distress and cause-specific mortality.
They found that
“cancer death was only associated with psychological distress at higher level.”
This is extremely relevant to the proposed correlation because those that are in the population of being adopted as children have been exposed to higher-level distress during the course of their childhood. It is not out of the question to therefore draw a connection between the high stresses that a child would experience from physical or verbal abuse to the development of cancer when that child has reached maturity.
One of the last physical properties of stress that has been studied is the connection between levels of stress and immune response. Research has found in case studies that lots of continual stress lowers the immune response and can contribute to the development and progression of certain types of cancer. The research of this particular case study found that
“persistent activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and the sympathetic-adrenal-medullary axes in chronic stress response and in depression impairs the immune response and contributes to the development and progression of some types of cancer.”
As clearly seen, the lasting mental effects of stress can have a variety of effects on one’s physical health. There is additional research that looks at the mental effects that stress has on those that fall into the group of individuals that have been adopted.
The whole process of adoption is without a doubt, a traumatic experience for a child. But, what are some of the lasting psychological effects that his process can have on that child. A case study wanted to look at just this. Specifically, what does the complex trauma of a situation that is highly stressful have on the mental health of a child. The study found the following:
“compared to youth with other types of trauma, those with complex trauma histories had significantly higher rates of internal problems, posttraumatic stress, and clinical diagnoses.”
Basically, the study backs the idea that the high the stress a child is exposed to, the more lasting effects that child will have on his or her own mental health. For a child that has been adopted or has an extended time in a foster care system, the levels of stress can be very high. It is therefore likely that those children will have the effects that are mentioned in the above case study. With these mental ailments, the children are more likely to continue to experience higher stress levels, and this can lead, as research has shown, to more and more physical health problems such as developing different types of cancers. This also can draw connections to the studies on behavioral problems for adopted children.
In this sort of study, research has shown that children that are adopted are more prone to have larger psychological effects than one would originally think. This study looked at a review of the current literature of behavioral problems to draw this conclusion. The lasting effects that this sort of conclusion has on the idea of a relation between stress and disease is significant. Because researchers have not given enough credit to the idea that there may indeed be larger psychological effects on adopted children, the research is still lacking. However assuming this correlation is true, there are direct applications to the proposal that a correlation exists between being adopted and developing cancer.
Limitations on connecting adoption and health
For research of this nature, there is one limitation that must be addressed to form a through and complete conclusion. Whenever looking at causes of disease, there are many factors that can be hard to accurately represent and predict. For something as complex as cancer, science has reached a point where we can explain the process of what is happening during the disease, but we are not able to entirely state why the disease starts in the first place.
So, it must be stated that though the stresses that a person can experience may in fact contribute to a the development and growth of malignant tumors within that person, the evidence cannot with 100% certainty state that this is the reason for the development of any one sort of disease. Additionally, as with any research that involves the study of humans, there are certain errors that people can make because of the complexity of a person’s life experiences. In the data collected from a particular case study, a person may have the parameters that would correlate them to a specific trait such as physical abuse relating to poor physical health, but in reality the underlying causes of the physical ailments could be rooted in a different reason.
From the data presented, it appears the stresses an individual experiences as a child has direct impact on their physical health in adulthood. In particular, those that experience higher amounts of stress will have more negative effects on their lasting physical health particularly in the contraction of certain types of diseases such as cancer. Therefore, a group of individuals that has a higher amount of stress experienced as children have a higher chance of contracting diseases such as cancer. Particularly, those that are adopted as children and have experienced extreme levels of stress in childhood tend to be at greater risk of developing cancer in their adult lives.
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