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Height may put women at a greater risk for cancer

Height and increased cancer risk

According to a recent new study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a woman’s cancer risk appears to increase with her height. This news was published after analyzing 20,928 postmenopausal women and concluding that the taller the woman “the greater the risk for a number of cancers, including breast, colon and skin cancer, among others.”

The research is not expected to change the screening recommendations and shouldn’t alarm taller women but will be used by scientist to continue their research to better under the association between height and cancer.

Why does height matter?

Scientists have not concluded exactly why height may increase a women’s risk of cancer, but some suggest it could be because hormones and growth factors spur both height and cancer cells. It could also be the simplest explanation: tall woman have increased surface area, resulting in a greater number of overall cells and higher subsequent risk of malignancy.

Tall men may also have a higher risk. Although this particular study focused exclusively on women, there have been other studies which suggest taller men were at slightly higher risk for aggressive prostate cancer. Other studies have found that men have an overall greater risk of developing cancer in non-sex specific organs like kidneys and lungs and this could simply be because of the height differences between men and women.

For this particular study the researchers identified 20,928 women who had received a cancer diagnosis during the 12-year study period. The scientists collected data for a variety of factors including the “woman’s height but also her age, weight, education, smoking habits, alcohol consumption and whether she used hormone therapy.”

The conclusion of the study was that “for every 4-inch change in height, there was a 13 percent increase in risk for developing any type of cancer.” The strongest associations occurred in the kidneys, thyroid, blood and rectum. According to this study, “the risk for those cancers increased by 23 to 29 percent for every 4-inch increase in height.”

What affects height?

Why are some people so much taller than others and could it be these factors rather than the height itself which increases the risk of cancer? Scientists are not sure, but they know height is affected not only by genetics but also by the type and amount of food consumed.

Some experts suggest childhood nutrition may play a role in an increased cancer risk. For instance, if a person has a “higher circulating level of a protein called insulin-like growth factor” in their body this could affect their height and their increased risk of cancer. This insulin can be impacted by a variety of factors such as nutrition, exercise and stress.

So should taller women despair? No, although we may have to endure towering over boys at the junior high school dance, there are also benefits to being tall. The bottom line is height is just one factor in many that could impact the risk of cancer.

The most important thing is not to worry but try to control what you can control: eat nutritious foods, get plenty of sleep and exercise and keep your stress levels low.
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