Volume 8 Supplement 2

Breast cancer research: the past and the future

Open Access

Breast cancer in relation to childhood parental divorce and early adult psychiatric disorder in a British birth cohort

  • AU Lokugamage1,
  • M Hotopf2,
  • R Hardy3,
  • G Mishra3,
  • S Butterworth3,
  • MEJ Wadsworth3 and
  • D Kuh3
Breast Cancer Research20068(Suppl 2):P30


Published: 01 November 2006


Jacobs and Bovasso reported [1] that maternal death in childhood and chronic, severe depression in adulthood was associated with subsequent breast cancer. We examined the effects of parental loss in childhood and psychiatric disorder in adult life on breast cancer risk using a national birth cohort study.


Eighty-three cases of breast cancer were diagnosed in a study of 2,253 women followed from birth to age 59 years. Cox's proportional hazards models were used to test whether breast cancer rates were higher in women who experienced parental death and divorce before age 16, psychiatric illness between 15 and 32 years, symptoms of anxiety and depression at 36 years, or use of anti-depressant medication at 31 or 36 years than in women who did not have these experiences.


There was no overall association between parental death, parental divorce, or psychiatric disorder on the incidence of breast cancer. There was some evidence that women with severe psychiatric illness were more likely to develop breast cancer early. The interaction between parental divorce and severe psychiatric illness was non-significant (P = 0.1); however, the group who experienced both these events had an increased breast cancer risk compared with those who experienced neither (HR = 2.64, 95% CI = 1.13–6.19) [2].


Our study does not provide strong support of the hypothesis that early loss or adult psychiatric disorders are associated with breast cancer. A meta-analysis is needed that uses data from all available cohort studies and investigates possible interactive effects on breast cancer risk.



RH, SB, MEJW, and DK are funded by the UK Medical Research Council. GM is funded by Breast Cancer Campaign and the World Cancer Research Fund, UK.

Authors’ Affiliations

Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Royal Free and University College Medical School
Academic Department of Psychological Medicine, Institute of Psychiatry
MRC National Survey of Health and Development, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Royal Free and University College Medical School


  1. Jacobs JR, Bovasso GB: Early and chronic stress and their relation to breast cancer. Psychol Med. 2000, 30: 669-678. 10.1017/S0033291799002020.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Lokugamage AU, Hotopf M, Hardy R, Mishra G, Butterworth S, Wadsworth MEJ, Kuh D: Breast cancer in relation to childhood parental divorce and early adult psychiatric disorder in a British birth cohort. Psychol Med. 2006, 36: 1307-1312. 10.1017/S0033291706007914.View ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar


© BioMed Central Ltd 2006