Tape Measure
Being unusually tall can also increase your cancer risk, says one study. Image: Flickr / wwarby / CC-BY-SA

In a new study published in the Lancet Oncology, the risk of cancer in women has been linked to height. This study of 1.3 million women in Britain between 1996 and 2001 was a part of a larger women’s health study. In short, the findings were that for every 4 inches taller than 5 foot 3 inches, cancer risk increases by 16 percent.

The height-cancer study

For five years, researchers followed 1.3 million middle-aged women in Britain as a part of the Million Women Study. The study, run by the University of Oxford, combines information about women’s cancer and women’s health throughout the United Kingdom. The average participant in the study was 5 feet 5 inches tall, with a range between 5 feet 1 inch and 5 feet 10 inches. Once researchers controlled for everything from smoking to reproductive health, they discovered that taller women consistently developed cancer more often than shorter women.

Cancer risk applies to almost all types

The idea that height affects disease risk is nothing new. It has been known for a long time that taller men are at a higher risk of testicular cancer, while taller women are known to be at a higher risk of colon cancer. However, this latest study seems to indicate that height is a good indicator of cancer risk across almost all types of cancer – skin, reproductive, colon and breast.

Theories behind the height connection

Researchers have postulated several different possibilities for why cancer and height are linked. Some believe that height is more an indicator than anything else; nutrition, genetics and environment all play a very big role in the eventual height of an individual. Others postulate that tall individuals have a higher concentration of growth hormones, which encourage abnormal cells to grow more quickly when they develop. No researcher is certain, however. Like all cancer research, separating causation and correlation is very difficult.

Height does not doom you

The director of health information at Cancer Research U.K. reassures tall people that this study need not concern them because “height will only have a small effect on their individual cancer risk.” External, controllable factors have a much higher effect. Quitting smoking and staying active will reduce your cancer risk significantly more than the 16 percent per 4 inches that this study found.

Sources

Time: http://healthland.time.com/2011/07/21/the-hazards-of-height-tall-people-may-be-more-prone-to-cancers/
Lancet Oncology: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanonc/issue/current
Cancer.gov: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Tobacco/cessation

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