Study: Height Raises Cancer Risk

Thursday, 21 July 2011 08:22 AM

Taller women may be at higher risk of developing at least 16 different types of cancer including leukemia and breast tumors, according to a U.K. study that may shed light on possible triggers for the disease.

Every 10-centimeter (4-inch) bump in height corresponded to a 16 percent greater chance of getting cancer, according to research published Thursday in the medical journal The Lancet. Scientists studying the link between stature and abnormal cell growth observed the greatest increase in the risk of kidney cancer and malignant melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

The scientists also evaluated other research into height and tumor development. An analysis of 11 studies showed a 10 percent increase in cancer risk in men for every 10 centimeters of growth, they said. Height may amplify the risk of cancer because taller people generally have higher levels of growth hormones, causing cells to multiply faster, said Jane Green, an epidemiologist at the University of Oxford and lead author of the study. They also have a greater number of cells that could divide.

“This gives us a possible insight into the basic mechanism of cancer,” Green said by phone. “Each of those things would give a higher chance of a mutation occurring.”

The researchers studied more than 1 million women in the U.K. who reported an average height of 161 centimeters to the state-run National Health Service between 1996 and 2001. They found more than 97,000 incidents of cancer by June 2008. Every 10 centimeters of height translated to an 17 percent increase for incidents of breast cancer, which comprised more than a third of all the observed malignancies, according to the Lancet.

Tallest Women

“Our study shows how consistent it is across different types of cancers,” Green said.

The tallest group of women studied by the scientists, with an average height of 174 centimeters, had a 37 percent greater chance of facing a tumor compared with women who reached an average height of 153 centimeters. Taller women, who are generally healthier in other areas, shouldn’t worry or look to treatments to stunt growth, Green said.

In the future, researchers should study childhood development for things that may affect cancer rates and height, such as nutrition, illness, and psychological stress, rather than final adult height, wrote Andrew Renehan of the University of Manchester in an accompanying editorial.

The study was funded by Cancer Research UK, a London-based charity, and the U.K. Medical Research Council.

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Thursday, 21 July 2011 08:22 AM
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