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Women’s height linked to cancer risk, study shows

cancer_cells.jpg

Cancer cells. (iStock)

Height may be a disadvantage for some women when it comes to their risk for developing cancer. A new study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarker’s and Prevention indicates that taller women are at a greater risk for contracting some forms of the disease.

Furthermore, researchers said their findings held strong even when controlling for numerous other factors linked to cancer, such as body mass index (BMI).  

“We didn’t find much difference in heavy or lighter women, so it’s a pretty consistent association right across the spectrum,” senior study author Dr. Thomas Rohan, chair and professor of epidemiology and population health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, told FoxNews.com.

In a 12-year study of 20,928 postmenopausal women, researchers noted that height was linked to breast, colon, endometrium, kidney, ovary, rectum, and thyroid cancers – as well as multiple myeloma and melanoma.

The taller the women were, the higher their cancer risk. Each 3.95 inch increase in height was associated with a 13 percent increased risk for developing any type of cancer, when researchers compared the heights of all women in the study. For example, a woman who was 5 feet 10 inches tall would have a 13 percent higher risk for cancer than a woman who was approximately 5 feet 6 inches tall. 

Furthermore, some cancers were more strongly associated with height than others. For cancers of the kidney, rectum, thyroid and blood, women experienced a 23 percent to 29 percent increased risk with each incremental gain in height.

While researchers can’t say exactly why the link exists, they have a few theories.

“There are many genetic determinants of height, and some may also be related to cancer risks,” Rohan said.

Another potential explanation may be related to environmental factors, such as childhood nutrition.  Increased energy intake during childhood is thought to influence adult height and may also impact certain systems in the body, according to Rohan.

“The intake may influence height, which somehow is influencing cancer risk,” Rohan said. “It may have an effect on hormones, which…may influence cancer risk.”

However, Rohan points out that many additional factors throughout adolescence and young adulthood could also be influencing women’s risk for cancer – and that a true explanation for this phenomenon remains unknown.

Despite their findings, Rohan and his fellow researchers hope that taller women don’t lose sleep over the matter. Instead, he hopes researchers will continue to explore the link between height and cancer, as they search for some of the underlying biological mechanisms that may be responsible for the correlation.

“The goal of this study was not to make clinical recommendations,” Rohan said. “From my perspective, this is an interesting observation. But there’s enough for people to worry about without worrying about how tall they are.”