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Women’s height linked to cancer risk

A recent study by the University of Philadelphia suggests that taller women may be more prone to developing cancer. The article, in the Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention journal, looked at breast, colon, endometrium, kidney, ovary, rectum, and thyroid cancers across over 20,000 women and found a positive correlation for every single cancer studied. The data used was collected by the Women’s Health Initiative between 1993 and 1998. 144,000 women were studied originally, with each measured for weight and height and then followed up with later. The 20,000 women studied were the ones from the original study of 144,000 who developed cancer in the 12 years following – a sizeable sample and a good cross section of “real-life” data, which makes it a highly credible study.

The results surprised everyone. The researchers were expecting to see a correlation between BMI (Healthy Body Mass Index) and cancer, but what they found was a link between cancer risk and height. For every 10cm increase in height, there was a 13% increase in cancer risk. For some cancers (blood, kidney, rectum and thyroid) the risk was up to 29% higher. The logic behind it is that cancers are associated with growth processes, and of course tall people were more likely to have grown quickly. Height is also related with childhood nutrition and so the key to discovering whether someone is likely to develop cancer or not could stem from early on in life.

Of course, there are other complicating factors too – diet and exercise can affect an individual’s chances of developing cancer and there may be certain genetic factors that come into play as well. What this study discusses is the possibility that the genetic factors determining height might also be the ones determining cancer risk. But, height is something unavoidable, there are risk factors that are more provable and easier to avoid. The most obvious risk factor is smoking. If you smoke more than 25 cigarettes a day, the risk of developing lung cancer is 25 times that of a non-smoker. And unlike height, smoking is very much a lifestyle choice. Similarly, alcohol consumption can increase the risk of several different cancers, including head and neck cancers (a 2-3 times greater risk for drinkers than non-drinkers). These risk factors were all taken into consideration when the researchers were compiling the data.

So, the study emphasizes that although height seems to be a factor in cancer risk, it’s still important to try and control the factors which can be controlled. Further studies are still needed into the genetic link, but the message is clear – tall women shouldn’t despair. Yes, your cancer risk may seem to be higher than your shorter counterparts, but maintaining a healthy lifestyle will still help you avoid cancer.


Until next time,

Peace, love and vitamin C!



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