Tall Women More Likely to Develop Cancer


A new study published in the journal Lancet came to a startling conclusion about the relationship between height and cancer risk in women: the taller women are, the more likely they are to develop cancer.  The study shows that for every 4-inch increase in height, women’s risk of 10 different cancers goes up a shocking 16 percent.  The tallest group (women 5’9” or taller) were 37% more likely to develop cancer than the shortest group (women 5 feet and shorter), holding age, socioeconomic status, BMI and level of physical activity constant.

Tall women don’t need to rush out for extra cancer screenings, though.  The study established a link, not a direct correlation, and the underlying biological causes for the link are still unknown.  Researchers had several theories, including the conjecture that because taller people have more cells, there are more opportunities for “mutations leading to malignant transformation.”  Another hypothesis was that growth hormones might be relevant to cancer.

Perhaps more importantly, the study found that smoking was a much stronger risk factor than height.  Among woman smokers, the incidence of smoking-related cancers was not as closely related to height.  So despite these findings, tall women can’t attribute cancer solely to genetics; we can still do much to lower our risk, even if we can’t get shorter.

Dr. Jane Green of Oxford University, the lead researcher, ultimately concluded: “Of course, people cannot change their height. 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 understand how cancers develop.”

It’s hard to argue with more information.  But it’s also important to be skeptical of studies linking physical traits to certain diseases, because they often contradict each other.  As a (relatively) tall woman, these findings don’t exactly make me comfortable.  But then again, researchers in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health told us last month that taller people tend to live longer, so at least I’m one for one.

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Photo from Simon A. Eugster via Wikimedia Commons.

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Katie L.
Katie L.3 years ago

This article doesn't give the "why." From what I understand, the hormone IGF-1 is responsible for promoting growth. It promotes body growth, but also cell division and growth in ALL types of cells, including cancer cells. Diets causing insulin resistance (grain and starch based) increase the IGF-1, promoting accelerated growth in children (and premature puberty), and can promote the growth of cancer cells in these adults.

Sarah M.
Sarah M.4 years ago

Ok. This is disturbing because I am tall, but it doesn't really make sense why this would be.

Grace Adams
Grace Adams4 years ago

It might help to study correlations of disease with factors the patient has some control over.

maryam petersson
maryam p.4 years ago

no truth to this article! another waste of research in the name of science!

Heidi D.
Heidi D.4 years ago

Disturbing article.

Danuta W.
Danuta Watola4 years ago

Thanks for this article.

Raymond  Cornes
Ray C.4 years ago

If they stop wasting money on reports with no factual back ground the better, when arre they going get into their heads, that money would be better off, been put into reseach in to cancer, when looking at the history of a person mybe be the forward, I have heard so many peolpe who have died of cancer, but the illness has been had down to their children, this would suggest that problem of cancer may be in a persons Genes, my Great Grandfarther smoke all his life, he died age 98 from Heart Failer, and he was over 6'ft.

Gianna M.
Gianna Macias4 years ago

And yet another stupid way of wasting money

Kersty E.
Kersty E.4 years ago

This looks just another sort of study that was done simply to give science students something to do. It has no foundation whatsoever. I'm 5'8" and healthy sofar. So is an older friend at 5'10". My favourite aunt died of cancer and was 5'4", a friend's sister was only 5'2". This research is a load of hogwash.

Sue Touchette
.4 years ago

Quick! Chop me off at the knees!!