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Determining a woman’s risk of developing cancer following menopause, researchers have found that taller women could face greater odds of receiving a cancer diagnosis when compared to their shorter peers.

For every four-inch increase in height, an older women faces a 13 percent greater chance of developing one of 19 different types of cancer, suggests the results of a new study. When broken down into individual types, the risk of certain cancers actually rose by nearly one-third.

Coupled with additional studies that have yielded similar results, researchers at New York City’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine now feel confident in saying that there exists a link between increased height in women and their risk of developing cancer. Despite this established correlation, researchers don’t currently understand what causes a woman’s risk of cancer to increase with her height, but speculate that it could have something to do with higher levels of specific hormones or larger organ size in taller women.

However, before taller women become too concerned that their longer legs could lead to trouble, researchers were quick to point out that the study only showed a correlation between height and cancer, not a direct cause and effect.

The results of this study were published in the peer reviewed journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

The Height of Concern

To determine what, if any, correlation existed between a woman’s height and cancer risk, researchers examined data from the Women’s Health Initiative, a program established in 1991 with the goal of addressing the most common causes of impaired quality of life, disability, and death among postmenopausal women. To date, the study has received the participation of nearly 145,000 women between the ages of 50 and 70 when initially recruited.

Researchers focused the attention primarily on data relating to nearly 21,000 postmenopausal women who had developed some form of cancer during the 12-year follow-up period study participants engaged in.

After considering additional risk factors for cancer, such as the woman’s weight and body-mass index, educational background, history as a smoker, drinking habits, age, and whether the patient had ever undergone hormone replacement therapy, researchers concluded that increased height appeared independently linked to an increased risk of cancer.

This association continued to hold up following the accounting of each patient’s cancer screening history, including colorectal exams, Pap smears, and mammograms. So even if two women were screened equally, the taller of the two would still have a higher risk of developing cancer.

Thyroid, rectum, ovary, kidney, endometrium, colon, and breast cancer all showed higher risk in relation to height, said the research team, as did a variety of melanoma and myeloma types.

Quantifiably, for every additional four inches of height, a woman’s odds of developing colon, endometrium, ovary, breast, or melanoma cancer increased between 13 to 17 percent, while a woman’s risk of developing blood, rectum, or kidney cancer rose between 19 and 23 percent, according to researchers.

Growing Significance

While researchers don’t currently believe that using a woman’s height as a predictive means of future cancer prevention and screening, they do hope findings from this type of data can play a significant role in improving our current understanding of how cancer develops and spreads.

This research may shine some light on how early developmental exposures that influence adult height, such as childhood nutrition, may contribute to the development of cancer. However, it’s also possible that the bodies of taller people just contain more cells, which increases the risk that some may become cancerous. So while the underlying cause of cancer risk and height might not be fully understood, this data does represent one more important piece in the cancer puzzle.

Timothy Lemke is a freelance health and science writer. To read more, visit the website of Dr. Brett Johnson, a dentist in Oregon City.


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