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Tall Women Face Greater Cancer Risks After Menopause

Update Date: Jul 25, 2013 03:20 PM EDT

Tall women are more likely to develop cancer, according to a new study.

New research revealed that the taller a woman is, the greater her chance of developing cancer after menopause.

Scientists at Yeshiva University found that there was a 13 percent increase in risk of developing cancer for every 10 cm increase in height.

Researchers said that they were surprised after they linked more cancers to height than weight. Height was linked to cancers of the breast, colon, endometrium, kidney, ovary, rectum, and thyroid, as well as to multiple myeloma and melanoma. 

Furthermore, researchers found that these association did not change even after adjusting for factors known to influence these cancers in the study of 20,928 postmenopausal women.

"We were surprised at the number of cancer sites that were positively associated with height. In this data set, more cancers are associated with height than were associated with body mass index [BMI]," Geoffrey Kabat, Ph.D., senior epidemiologist in the Department of Epidemiology and Population Health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York, said in a statement.

"Ultimately, cancer is a result of processes having to do with growth, so it makes sense that hormones or other growth factors that influence height may also influence cancer risk," he explained.

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.

However, Kabat notes that more studies are needed to understand how these height-related genetic variations predispose some men and women to cancer.

The study examined data from a study that recruited post-menopausal women aged 50 to 79 between 1993 and 1998. At the start of the study, the women answered questionnaires about physical activity and their height and weight were measured.

Researchers identified 20,928 women who had been diagnosed with one or more invasive cancers during the follow-up of 12 years.

After accounting for many factors influencing cancers like age, weight, education, smoking habits, alcohol consumption, and hormone therapy, researchers found that for every 10 centimeter increase in height, there was a 13 percent increase in the risk of developing any cancer.

When looking at specific cancers, researchers found that there was a 13 percent to 17 percent increase in the risk of getting melanoma and cancers of the breast, ovary, endometrium, and colon.  There was a 23 percent to 29 percent increase in the risk of developing cancers of the kidney, rectum, thyroid, and blood.

Researchers said that of the 19 cancers studies, none showed a negative correlation with height.

Researchers also examined the participants' mammography, Pap and colorectal cancer screening histories, which they said could have affected the study results, but found that the results remained unchanged.

"Although it is not a modifiable risk factor [A modifiable risk factor can be changed, controlled, or treated, e.g., diet, lifestyle. Height is a non-modifiable risk factor because it cannot be changed], the association of height with a number of cancer sites suggests that exposures in early life, including nutrition, play a role in influencing a person's risk of cancer," said Kabat.

"There is currently a great deal of interest in early-life events that influence health in adulthood. Our study fits with this area," he concluded.

The findings are published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

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