Persistent health disparities are a major contributor to disproportionate burden of cancer for some populations. Health disparities in cancer incidence and mortality may reflect differences in exposures to risk factors early in life. Understanding the distribution of exposures to early life risk and protective factors for cancer across different populations can shed light on opportunities to promote health equity at earlier developmental stages. Disparities may differentially influence risk for cancer during early life and create opportunities to promote health equity. Potential risk and protective factors for cancer in early life reveal patterns of disparities in their exposure. These disparities in exposures can manifest in downstream disparities in risk for cancer. These risk and protective factors include adverse childhood experiences; maternal alcohol consumption in pregnancy; childhood obesity; high or low birth weight; benzene exposure; use of assisted reproductive technologies; pesticide and insecticide exposure; isolated cryptorchidism; early pubertal timing; exposure to radiation; exposure to tobacco in utero and in early life; allergies, asthma, and atopy; and early exposure to infection. Disparities on the basis of racial and ethnic minority status, economic disadvantage, disability status, sex, geography, and nation of origin can occur in these risk and protective factors. Vulnerable populations experience disproportionally greater exposure to risk factors in early life. Addressing disparities in risk factors in early life can advance opportunities for prevention, promote health equity, and possibly reduce risk for subsequent development of cancer.

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