Thursday, July 21, 2011

Taller people have a higher cancer risk

An Oxford study of nearly 1.3 million women
found a 16 percent increase in cancer risk for
every four inches above five feet.
Apparently being tall isn’t all good, a new study has found that taller women have an increased chance of 10 common cancers.

Led by Dr. Jane Green, the Oxford University study followed nearly 1.3 million middle-aged women for five years between 1996 and 2001. They gathered information about about height and other factors relevant to cancer. They published their findings today in The Lancet Oncology.

"Many previous studies have looked at height and cancer risk- most of  them were not large enough to compare risk across different types of cancer," the 5'7" Green told Cancer Digest in an e-mail interview,  "or to look in detail at other factors such as smoking. We were able to do this in our study of 1.3 million women."

They calculated the relative risk for every 10 cm (four inches) increase in height over 152 cm (five feet). During the study period there where 97,376 cancers diagnosed. When they did the math there was a 16 percent increased risk for any cancer for every 4 inches above 5 feet compared to women to women who were five feet or below.

The increased risk was consistent across 15 of 17 cancers they looked at and was statistically significant for 10 cancers including colorectal, melanoma, breast, endometrial, ovarian, kidney, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and leukemia.The relative risks of some individual cancers they looked at were even higher. There was a 32 percent greater risk of malignant melanoma, the deadly form of skin cancer. Similarly, the increased relative risk for leukemia was 26 percent, and kidney cancer risk was 29 percent higher compared to women five feet or under.

The researchers don’t have an explanation for why height might increase cancer risk. Green said the differences in risk by height are not large enough to mean that special screening would be needed.

"Tall people have other health advantages- for example, lower risk of heart disease. The importance  of the study is in helping us to understand how cancers develop."

One theory is that the growth hormones that stimulate growth and helps determine height may have some affect on the rate of cell division and turnover.

"This study helps to confirm the consistency of the height-cancer link for different cancer types and in different populations- providing a good epidemiological basis for the research already going on to look at possible mechanisms (eg growth hormones)," Green added.

Wall Street Journal

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