Taller women face higher risk of developing cancer, study says


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Researchers have discovered a link between women's height and their cancer risk. A study published in Cancer Epidemiology found that the taller a postmenopausal woman is, the greater her risk for developing cancer.

Researchers analyzed data from 144,701 women between the ages of 50 and 79, noting their physical activity levels, heights and weights, and identified 20,928 women who had been diagnosed with one or more invasive cancers during the 12-year follow-up. 

Even after adjusting for factors known to influence cancer — such as age, weight, education, smoking habits, alcohol consumption and hormone therapy — researchers found that height was linked to cancers of the breast, colon, endometrium, kidney, ovary, rectum and thyroid, as well as to multiple myeloma and melanoma. 

For every 10-centimeter (3.94 inches) increase in height, cancer risk increased by 13%. Specifically, there was a 13% to 17% increase in the risk of developing melanoma and cancers of the breast, ovary, endometrium and colon; and a 23% to 29% increase in the risk of developing cancers of the kidney, rectum, thyroid and blood.

"We were surprised at the number of cancer sites that were positively associated with height. In this data set, more cancers are associated with height than were associated with body mass index," said Geoffrey Kabat, senior epidemiologist in the Department of Epidemiology and Population Health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York, N.Y. "Ultimately, cancer is a result of processes having to do with growth, so it makes sense that hormones or other growth factors that influence height may also influence cancer risk."

Among the 19 cancers studied, none showed a negative association with height. The press release announcing the study results did, however, note that "some genetic variations associated with height are also linked to cancer risk, and more studies are needed to better understand how these height-related genetic variations predispose some men and women to cancer."