Connection Between Height and Cancer

heightandcancerAlways wished you were tall? Well, that may not be a genetic plus.

Research published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention found a surprising connection between height and cancer risk among postmenopausal women.

The researchers studied more than 20,000 women ages 50 to 79, who participated in the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) study, a continuous analysis of post menopausal women and the factors that contribute to their health. They separated the women into five groups based on their height, starting with women shorter than 5 feet 1 inch, and matched them to data on their cancer rates.

They discovered that for every 10 centimeters of height, a woman’s risk of developing a range of different cancers increased by 13%. When they looked at all the cancers together, they found that taller women had a 13% to 17% greater risk of developing melanoma, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer and colon cancer. They also had a 23% to 29% greater risk of developing kidney, rectum, thyroid and blood cancers.  All of the cancers showed a connection with how tall the women were; none of the taller women showed a lower risk of cancer compared to their shorter counterparts.

While the connection seems odd, previous studies have uncovered the same connection; it’s possible, for example, on basic levels, the larger number of cells and tissues that taller people have simply increases the odds that some of those cells will develop abnormally and become malignant. In other words, some of the same processes that fuel height may also the feed tumors.

Geoffrey Kabat, a senior epidemiologist in the Department of Epidemiology and Population Health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University pointed out that it makes sense the hormones or other growth factors that influence height may also influence cancer risk. Some of those common factors may be genetic, while others could be linked to environmental exposures or nutrition early in life.

“[The association between height and cancer] raises some interesting biological questions, and investigators can come up with [new] explanations,” says the study’s senior author, Dr. Thomas Rohan, the chair and professor of epidemiology and population health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

The study doesn’t imply that cancer is inevitable for every tall woman it just found a connection. It doesn’t have a cause-and-effect relationship. And it’s unlikely that diseases as complex as cancer can be traced to just one human process such as growth.

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3 thoughts on “Connection Between Height and Cancer

  1. Huh. Weird. I wonder why that is? I know when my mom was diagnosed with cancer they said there was some sort of correlation between that and anemia. She was short though, 5’2″. Interesting!

  2. Cancer Death Rates Exacerbated by Kidney Function | Life's Roller Coaster

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