What You Need to Know: A new study has found an increased risk for certain types of cancers in taller women.
Background: While obesity has long been named as a risk factor for cancer, a new study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention that adjusts for various factors including age and weight, has found an increased risk for certain types of cancers in taller women.
The Evidence: The study, which included 20,298 postmenopausal women, found that for every 10-centimeter (3.94 inches) increase in height, there was a 13% increase in the risk of developing certain cancers, including, breast, colon, endometrium, kidney, ovary, rectum, thyroid, multiple myeloma and melanoma. The most surprising finding for researchers was that weight seems to be a lower risk factor than previously assumed.
“We did examine variation in risk and there was no variation of levels of risk by weight,” says senior author Thomas Rohan, PhD, MD, chairman and professor of the department of epidemiology and population health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
Since you can’t really do anything about your height, what does this mean to tall women? Nothing specifically, says Dr. Rohan. He says the purpose of the study was not to make clinical recommendations and there was no thought of cancer screening or diagnosis implied in the study. Rather, the researchers were merely to try to add to the existing research into the biology of cancer development.
“We have been aware of some reports in the literature about the link between cancer and height, and we thought we could make a contribution to that research,” says Dr. Rohan.
In other words, don’t try to stunt your daughter’s growth so that her cancer risk is reduced when she is in her 70s.
Lead researcher Geoffrey Kabat, PhD, MS, a senior epidemiologist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, noted that cancer is a result of processes having to do with growth, so hormones or other growth factors that influence height may also influence long-term cancer risk. The study also notes that height should not be thought of as a risk factor, but rather as a marker for exposures that may influence cancer risk. In other words, there are so many things that effect growth, that it’s almost beyond anyone’s ability to control.
The take-home message is not to panic, but to just appreciate one more small step in the ongoing quest to try to figure out exactly what makes cancer tick. I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.
The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page.
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