From: David A Gabel, ENN
Published July 21, 2011 09:39 AM

Study: Height Plays a Factor in Cancer Risk for Women

The risk of contracting cancer is generally thought to be caused by a combination of lifestyle and inheritance. If you decide to smoke too much, drink too much, or eat too much, the risk of cancer goes up. Plus, if your ancestors had a heightened risk of cancer, chances are you contain similar genetics. Now, new research from the University of Oxford has put forward a new theory: taller women are at increased risk of a wide range of cancer. Data has been compiled from over one million individuals which supports this theory. However, the reason why height equates to greater cancer risk remains a mystery.


The research concluded that the risk of cancer goes up by 16 percent for every four inch (ten cm) increase in height. In reaching these numbers, the researchers factored in the many different types of cancer, and the different lifestyles and economic backgrounds of the women.

"We showed that the link between greater height and increased total cancer risk is similar across many different populations from Asia, Australasia, Europe, and North America," said Dr Jane Green, lead author of the study, who is based at the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at Oxford University. "The link between height and cancer risk seems to be common to many different types of cancer and in different people; suggesting that there may be a basic common mechanism, perhaps acting early in peoples' lives, when they are growing."

The researchers used data from the Cancer Research UK-funded Million Women Study which examined 1.3 million middle-aged women in the United Kingdom. This study took place between 1996 and 2001 and included factors relevant to cancer, the incidence of cancer, and personal information such as height. A follow up to the survey was conducted in 2011, ten years after the survey concluded. Of all women, 97,000 cases of cancer were identified.

Total cancer risk increased with height, as did the risk of many different types of cancer. The types of cancers which increased along with height include cancers of the breast, ovary, womb, bowel, leukemia, and malignant melanoma.

How is it possible that height increases the risk of cancer? Theories abound, but the researchers have not been able to pinpoint any as the true cause. One suggestion is that environmental influences that may cause an individual to grow taller, such as childhood diet and infections or growth hormones, may be involved. Another theory is that, because the heights of global populations have increased in the 20th century, the overall landscape of cancer risk has been altered.

"Of course people cannot change their height," said Dr. Green. "Being taller has been linked to a lower risk of other conditions, such as heart disease. The importance of our findings is that they may help us to understand how cancers develop."

The research has been published in the journal, The Lancet Oncology.

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