THURSDAY, July 25 (HealthDay News) -- Sizing up cancer risk
after menopause, scientists say taller women may face higher odds
of developing a malignancy than their shorter peers.
For every height increase of roughly 4 inches, older women faced
a 13 percent greater overall risk for 19 types of cancer, a new
study suggested. When broken down by specific type, risk rose
almost one-third for certain cancers.
"At this point there have been enough studies that have pointed in the same direction for us to be reasonably certain that among these women there is an increased risk for cancer with increasing height," said study co-author Dr. Thomas Rohan, chairman of the department of epidemiology and population health at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.
"Although it's a very interesting observation, we don't really know what explains this," Rohan said. "Maybe it's greater organ size or changes in certain hormone levels."
However, since the findings only suggest an association and do
not prove a direct cause-and-effect relationship between height and
cancer risk, lanky women shouldn't panic.
For the study, published in the August issue of the journal
Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, the
authors sifted through data previously collected by the Women's
Health Initiative. That effort involved nearly 145,000 women who
were between 50 and 70 years old when recruited for the study
during the 1990s.
The study authors focused on a subset of nearly 21,000
postmenopausal women who had developed at least one form of cancer
during a 12-year follow-up period.
After considering a patient's age, drinking and smoking history,
educational background, weight and body-mass index, and the use of
hormone replacement therapy, the researchers concluded that
increased height seemed to be independently linked to an increased
risk for cancer.
The association held up even after accounting for each patient's
history of undergoing cancer screenings, including mammograms, Pap
smears and colorectal exams.
Breast, colon, endometrium, kidney, ovary, rectum and thyroid
cancer risk all rose with height, the research team said, as did
various forms of myeloma and melanoma.
Specifically, with each additional 10 centimeters (about 4
inches) of height, the odds of developing melanoma, breast, ovary,
endometrium or colon cancer rose 13 percent, to 17 percent. And the
risk of kidney, rectum, thyroid or blood cancers grew 23 percent,
to 29 percent, the study authors said.
How the height-risk observation might play out in terms of
improving cancer screening and intervention remains to be seen,
"It's probably not an effective screening mechanism. My gut is that it is just too broad a factor to be useful," he said. "And clearly we're not talking about a modifiable factor. Obviously we're not recommending that women do what they can to reduce their height. But with more work this may ultimately tell us something about the biology of cancer, and how genetics plays a role in raising cancer risk among some women and men."
Rebecca Siegel, an epidemiologist and director of surveillance
information at the American Cancer Society, said the findings open
multiple avenues for further consideration.
"One possible explanation for these findings is that early developmental exposures that influence adult height may also contribute to cancer risk," she said. "In which case height would be a marker for cancer risk and not a causal factor." Childhood nutrition, for instance, influences adult height.
It's possible that taller people simply have a larger number of
cells, Siegel added. "While the underlying reasons for this
association are not well understood, this information may be an
important piece of the cancer puzzle that could contribute to the
further understanding of how and why cancer develops," she
For more on cancer causes and risk factors, visit the
U.S. National Cancer Institute.
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