Physical childhood abuse appears to be a risk factor for cancer, a University of Toronto study says.

“It really surprised us,” researcher Esme Fuller-Thomson said yesterday of the apparent link discerned from a statistical analysis.

The study, to be published July 15 in the American Cancer Society journal Cancer, does not suggest that physical damage to a child’s body leads to cancer.

Rather, it suggests a correlation between psychological damage from childhood physical abuse and an elevated cancer risk in adulthood — a mind-body association that medical science can often be reluctant to explore.

Prolonged exposure to stress in childhood, preliminary evidence suggests, results in elevated levels of the chemical cortisol in adulthood and a compromised immune system.

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