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July 26, 2013

Your height may predict your cancer risk

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    Taller women are more likely to develop cancer than their shorter peers, according to a surprising new study in Cancer, Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention.

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    "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," according to Dr. Geoffrey Kabat of Yeshiva University, the study's lead author.

    He added that taller people tend to have more cells and larger organs, increasing chances of mutations.


    For the study, Yeshiva University researchers looked at data on 20,928 post-menopausal women with cancer and found a correlation between height and their risk of developing 19 types of cancer. Researchers took into account various contributing factors, including weight, smoking habits, alcohol consumption, education, and cancer screening history.

    Altogether, the risk of developing the 19 types of cancer increased by 13% for every additional 10 centimeters (a little less than four inches) of height. Specifically, with every 10-centimeter height increase:

    • A woman's risk of developing melanoma breast cancer, ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer, and colon cancer rose by up to 17% ; and
    • A woman's risk of developing kidney, rectum, thyroid and blood cancers increased by up to 29% .

    Researchers are increasingly focused on how early-life developments influence health risks as an adult, Kabat said. Specifically, a person's adult height is affected by genetics but also nutrition, diet, and other early-life events, which could potentially play a role in raising risk of cancer, USA Today reports.

    "It makes sense that hormones ... that influence height may also influence cancer risk."
    - Dr. Geoffrey Kabat

    According to co-author Thomas Rohan, the link is likely similar between tall men and cancer, but he warns that shorter people should not use the findings as an excuse to skip cancer screenings.

    "This is really a biological study, not a study pinpointing the exact cause," Rohan said, asking "What's the explanation? Quite frankly, that's a question that may never be fully resolved" (Waseem, USA Today, 7/25; Sifferlin, "Healthland," Time, 7/26; Haiken, Forbes, 7/26).

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