Women’s height linked to cancer

By Sheryl Kay • Published: November 20th, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

As a child or a teenager, being the tallest in the class is sometimes associated with sitting in the rear of the room, being in the back of every photo, and never being first in any line.

But those all pale in comparison to findings from a recent study that show for postmenopausal women, extra inches correspond to a heightened risk for a variety of cancers including thyroid, kidney, breast, ovarian, colon, rectal and endometrial, as well as to multiple cases of melanoma.

The researchers, who published their work in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, used statistics from the Women’s Health Initiative, a five-year study that included postmenopausal women between the ages of 50 and 79. At the onset of that study, the women were questioned about their level of physical activity and their height and weight. Over the ensuing five years, their physical well-being was tracked.

Of the almost 140,000 women in the study, investigators found about 21,000 who developed cancer in the 12 years after the study ended. Using that data, and taking into account many possible contributing factors like weight, age, lifestyle, hormone therapy and level of education, the researchers found that for every four additional inches of height, the women were 13 percent more likely to have cancer. The incidence of specific cancers was even more pronounced. For example in the cases of kidney, rectal and thyroid cancers, the risk was 23 to 29 percent higher.

While the investigators acknowledged that height is not something that can be modified like smoking cigarettes or eating less fat, being aware of the correlation enhances a woman’s ability to monitor her own health as she gets older.