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Link Between Height and Cancer in Women Explained

Jul 26, 2013 12:37 AM EDT
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Size does matter when it comes to height. Taller women are believed to be at a higher risk of developing cancer, a new study says.

That's the surprising news from a study published in the online edition of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention showing that the taller women are, the greater their risk for numerous types of cancer.

Researchers from the Department of Epidemiology and Population Health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York looked at data from 20,928 postmenopausal women with cancer and found that cancer risk correlated more strongly with height than with other commonly cited risk factors, such as being overweight.

"There had been several previous studies but there hadn't been much done in North America," says Dr. Thomas E. Rohan, chair and professor of epidemiology and population health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, New York. He's the senior author of the paper published Thursday in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

"We found that there was a strong, significant association between height and cancer risk, both for all cancers combined and for several specific cancer sites," says Rohan. Those specific cancer sites are colorectum, colon, rectum, breast, endometrium, ovary, kidney, thyroid, melanoma and multiple myeloma.

The study said that for each 10 centimeter - about 4 inch - increase in height is associated with a 13 percent increase in overall cancer risk, according to his group's analysis of 144,701 women aged 50 to 79 participating in the Women's Health Initiative, a major, long-term research program established by the National Institutes of Health in 1991.

"This study is in women, our study was in women, but when we looked at studies of men as well, it is very similar," says Dr. Jane Green, a clinical epidemiologist at the University of Oxford, England and the lead author of the largest study to date of the link between height and cancer.

Researchers explained that rather than being a risk factor itself, height is primarily an indicator of a variety of factors that boost cancer risk.  Some of these factors include genes, nutrition, diet and other environmental variables that affect growth early in life.

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