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August 10, 2011 | 2 minute read

Can Our Height Influence Cancer Risk?

The research AICR supports and highlights focuses on lifestyle choices people can make to prevent cancer, recurrence, and help survivors. So it may seem odd that one of those factors relates to height, a factor seemingly uncontrollable. The topic grabbed headlines the other week after a new study was published.

The study was big: drawing data on height and cancer from 1.3 million U.K. women. The women were tracked for almost 10 years, during which almost 100,000 of the women were diagnosed with cancer.

It was published in the Lancet Oncology. Here is the abstract.

And you can read more about the study in today’s issue of Cancer Research Update.

For every 10 centimeters (4 inches) increase in height above 5 foot 1 inch, the risk of cancer increased by 16 percent overall. When analyzed by cancer type, ten sites were significantly linked to increased height.

The women were all middle aged and the authors also looked at if the height-cancer link was modified by personal characteristics, including body weight, activity level, socioeconomics. Out of 12 factors, 11 of them did not alter the height-cancer link (only smoking slightly did.)

Back in 2007 and again this year, AICR’s expert report and its updates found that the taller people are, the higher their risk for cancers of the colorectum, pancreas, breast, and ovary.

Although as adults our height is set, how tall we are is determined by genetic, environmental, hormonal, and nutritional factors. It’s likely not tallness itself that is the culprit, note the expert report authors, but the factors that influence a person’s height. And for cancer risk, one of the questions scientists are investigating is the role of nutrition in height. Adult height is linked to birth weight, rate of growth, age of puberty, and certain hormones, all of which may be affected by nutrition.

The research is ongoing. So tall women out there, remember that height is only one factor that can influence risk and the amount of increased risk is relatively small. What is known is that Americans – of all heights – can prevent one-third of the most common cancers by maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, and eating healthy.


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