Taller women may face a higher risk of many cancers than their shorter counterparts, according to a US study released Thursday.
Researchers looked at a sample of nearly 145,000 postmenopausal women aged 50 to 79 for the analysis published in the US journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.
They found that each additional 10 centimeters (four inches) of height was linked to a 13 percent higher risk of getting cancer.
“Ultimately, cancer is a result of processes having to do with growth, so it makes sense that hormones or other growth factors that influence height may also influence cancer risk,” said lead author Geoffrey Kabat, senior epidemiologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York.
After 12 years of following women who entered the study without cancer, researchers found links between greater height and higher likelihood of developing cancers of the breast, colon, endometrium, kidney, ovary, rectum, thyroid, as well as multiple myeloma and melanoma.
The height association remained even after scientists adjusted for factors that might influence these cancers, such as age, weight, education, smoking habits, alcohol consumption and hormone therapy.
“We were surprised at the number of cancer sites that were positively associated with height. In this data set, more cancers are associated with height than were associated with body mass index (BMI),” added Kabat.
Some cancers saw an even higher risk among taller women, such as a 23 to 29 percent increase in the risk of developing cancers of the kidney, rectum, thyroid, and blood for each additional 10 centimeters of height.
None of the 19 cancers studied showed a lower risk with greater height.
The study did not establish a certain height level at which cancer risk begins to rise, and Kabat said it is important to remember that the increased risk researchers found was small.
“It needs to be kept in mind that factors such as age, smoking, body mass index, and certain other risk factors have considerably larger effects,” he said.
“The association of height with a number of cancer sites suggests that exposures in early life, including nutrition, play a role in influencing a person’s risk of cancer.”