Many short women wish that they were a few inches taller; however, a new study notes that you must be careful what you wish for. A new study by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York have found that women of greater stature have an increased risk of all types of cancers. They published their findings online on July 25 in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.
The study authors note that prospective (forward-looking) studies in Western and Asian populations suggest that height is a risk factor for various cancers. However, only a handful of studies have explored other factors that might potentially influence that increased risk. Therefore, they examined the association between height measured at enrollment in 144,701 women participating in the Women’s Health Initiative and risk of all cancers combined and cancer at 19 specific sites. The women were followed for an average of 12.0 years; the researchers identified 20,928 cancers among this group of women. They performed a statistical analysis of increased risk per 10 centimeters (3.9 inches) increase in height. They also examined factors that could be related to an increased risk of cancer in general as well as specific cancers.
The taller the women were, the higher their cancer risk. When the investigators compared the heights of all women in the study, each 10 centimeter increase in height was associated with a 13% increased risk for developing any type of cancer. For example, a woman who was 5 feet 10 inches tall would have a 13% higher risk for cancer than a woman who was approximately 5 feet 6 inches tall. In addition, some cancers were more strongly associated with height than others. For cancers of the kidney, rectum, thyroid and blood, women experienced a 23-29% increased risk with each incremental gain in height.
The researchers were not able to supply a definite reason for the increased risk, they offered a few theories. One was that many genetic factors influence stature and some of them may be related to cancer risks. Another is that the increased risk might be related to environmental factors, such as childhood nutrition. Increased energy intake during childhood is thought to influence adult height and may also impact certain systems in the body as well as hormone levels. The investigators also noted that many additional factors throughout adolescence and young adulthood could also be influencing a woman’s risk for cancer; thus, the true explanation for the increased risk remains unknown.
The researchers caution that women should not fret unnecessarily over the findings of their study. Instead, they are hopeful that ongoing research on this topic will uncover the underlying biological mechanisms that may be responsible. If so, this understanding could lead to preventive or treatment measures.