Being Tall Increases Cancer Risk in Postmenopausal Women

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • I’ve always appreciated being tall. I could always see over the heads of others at a parade and could reach the top shelf to get a glass in my kitchen. I tried to use my height to my advantage, whether playing basketball (“Get that rebound!” my mother used to yell at me) or tennis (stretching to get a volley at the net). However, height may not be as good a thing as we reach menopause. That’s because a new study has linked being tall with an increased risk of developing cancer.

    The study out of Albert Einstein College of Medicine involved data from 144,701 women between the ages of 50 and 79 who participated in the Women’s Health Initiative between 1993 and 1998. These women’s height and weight were measured at the time they entered the longitudinal study; additionally, the women answered questions about their physical activity level.

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    The Einstein researchers then used data from a subset of the study, 20,928 women who had been diagnosed with one or more invasive cancers 12 years after the start of the study.  In trying to look at the issue of height, the researchers’ analyses accounted for a variety of factors that have been linked to cancer, such as age, weight, education, smoking, alcohol consumption and hormone therapy.

    Additional analysis found that having more height was associated with risk of all cancers as well as a variety of specific versions of the disease. These specific cancers are thyroid, rectum kidney, endometrium, colorectum, colon, ovary and breast as well as multiple myeloma and melanoma.

    The researchers also found that for every 10 centimeters (3.94 inches) increase in height, there was a 13-percent increased risk of developing a range of difference cancers. Furthermore, their analysis determined that taller woman had between a 13-percent and 17-percent greater risk of being diagnosed with melanoma, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer and colon cancer. And taller woman had between a 23 percent and 29 percent higher risk of developing kidney cancer, rectum cancer, thyroid cancer and blood cancer. 

    "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]," Dr. Geoffrey Kabat, the senior epidemiologist in the department of epidemiology and population health at the hospital and the study’s lead author said in a press release. “"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."

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

  • Needless to say, there’s not much you can do about your height at this point in life. So what can you do to reduce your risk of cancer? Experts point to lifestyle decisions that can help lower your risk. Here are some suggestions, courtesy of the Mayo Clinic:

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    • Stop smoking and don’t use any type of tobacco products. Smoking has been linked to cancer of the lung, bladder, cervix and kidney while chewing tobacco has been tied to cancer of the oral cavity and pancreas. Being exposed to second-hand smoke also increases your risk of lung cancer.
    • Make sure you eat a healthy diet. Your diet should include plenty of fruits and vegetables as well as foods from plant sources (think grains and beans). Opt for lean animal sources and limit high-fat foods.  If you drink, do so in moderation.
    • Maintain a healthy weight and be physically active. A healthy weight can help lower the risk of breast cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer and kidney cancer. Physical activity may lower the risk of breast cancer and colon cancer.
    • Protect yourself from the sun by staying inside when the sun’s rays are strongest. Otherwise, stay in the shade, cover exposed areas and use sunscreen. Also, avoid tanning beds and sunlamps.
    • Avoid risky behaviors, such as unsafe sex and sharing needles. These behaviors can lead to infections that increase your risk of cancer.
    • Get specific immunizations, such as for hepatitis B, when appropriate.
    • Get regular medical screenings for cancer.

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    Albert Einstein College of Medicine. (2013). Women’s height linked to cancer risk.

    Kabat, G. C. (2013). Adult stature and risk of cancer at different anatomic sites in a cohort of postmenopausal women. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

    Mayo Clinic. (2012). Cancer prevention: 7 tips to reduce your risk.

    Sifferlin, A. (2013). How height is connected to cancer.

Published On: July 26, 2013