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.
Photo from Simon A. Eugster via Wikimedia Commons.