How Height Is Connected to Cancer

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Jealous of your long-legged peers? Turns out they may not have won the gene pool after all.

New research published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention found a surprising correlation between height and cancer risk among postmenopausal women; the taller the woman, the greater her risk for the disease.

The researchers studied more than 20,900 women ages 50 to 79 who participated in the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI)  study, an on-going analysis of post menopausal women and the factors that contribute to their health. They separated the women into five groups based on their height, starting with women shorter than 5 feet 1 inch, and matched them to data on their cancer rates.

(MORE: Mapping Cancer: Largest Set of Tumor Genomes Could Lead to Better Anticancer Drugs)

They discovered that for every 10 centimeters of height, a woman’s risk of developing a range of different cancers increased by 13%. When they looked at all the cancers together, they found that taller women had a 13% to 17% greater risk of developing melanoma, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer and colon cancer. They also had a 23% to 29% greater risk of developing kidney, rectum, thyroid and blood cancers.  All of the cancers showed a positive association with height; none of the taller women showed a lower risk of cancer compared to their shorter counterparts.

While the connection seems odd, previous studies have exposed the same association;  it’s possible, for example, that on the most basic level, the greater number of cells and tissues that taller people possess simply increases the odds that some of those cells will develop abnormally and become malignant. Alternatively, some of the same processes that fuel the growth that contributes to height may also feed tumors.

“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 Geoffrey Kabat, a senior epidemiologist in the Department of Epidemiology and Population Health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in a statement.

(MORE: Another Case of Brain Cancer In Baseball. What’s Going On?)

Some of those common factors may be genetic, while others could be linked to environmental exposures or nutrition early in life.  As the authors write:

Adult height is determined both by genetics and by early life exposures, and environmental circumstances influence the attainment of one’s genetic potential. The influence of environmental exposures on height is evidenced by the secular increase in the height of populations in many countries beginning in the 19th century, probably reflecting improvements in hygiene and nutrition. Height should thus be thought of as a marker for one or more exposures that influence cancer risk rather than a risk factor itself.

Women raised in higher socioeconomic households, for example, tended to be taller than those raised in lower income settings, reflecting the fact that different nutritional exposures may have played a role in both their height and cancer risk. Height may simply be a marker for factors such as nutrition, and identifying them may yield new understanding of about how to prevent and treat tumors more effectively, “[The association between height and cancer] raises some interesting biological questions, and investigators can come up with [new] explanations,” says the study’s senior author, Dr. Thomas Rohan, the chair and professor of epidemiology and population health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

In the meantime, Rohan and his colleagues say the study doesn’t imply that cancer is inevitable for every tall woman. The study found an association, not a cause-and-effect relationship. And it’s unlikely that diseases as complex as cancer can be traced to just one developmental process such as growth.

106 comments
jessicaa5980
jessicaa5980

maybe I will change my major from geography to epidemiology I can study whether the Beatles or Elvis fans live longer. Casquette Huf

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All of the cancers showed a positive association with height; none of the taller women showed a lower risk of cancer

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siskasari
siskasari

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James69
James69

All of the cancers showed a positive association with height; none of the taller women showed a lower risk of cancer.Casquette NBA

Fed_Up1
Fed_Up1

This explains a lot about my family. Thanks for the information (I guess! :-( )

eagle11772
eagle11772

I wold rather be 6 feet tall and live 60 years, than be 5 feet tall and live 70 years.

jonyg95
jonyg95

can i get a link to the site where the statistics used were gathered?

BenevolentLawyer
BenevolentLawyer

I really think TIME reporters need to research more believable topics. So, I guess with this blurred conclusion, those of us who are tall should take some solace in the fact that this article is really a pile of bunk??? The ending paragraph certainly seems to ask us to discount the entire rigmarole, conjecture baloney article. 

I am tall, happy and healthy. As far as I can remember, there have been super tall folks in my family who are all cancer free. All the women I know in my rowing teams have been tall AND cancer free. I know many people who are tall and healthy and cancer free. So much MAKE BELIEVE nonsense is linked to cancer. I am surprised this magazine wasted time on this sort of balderdash. Did you hear dog hairs cause cancer? Google it. There are scores of studies on that too.

This article sounds like a report concocted by some SHORT fellow who has nothing better to do with time than to write some nonsense.

The advantages of accepting you YOU as YOU are, are innumerable. And articles like this with their studies (that you can get to support anything including the fact the moon does not really exist, dog hair cancer and all manner of madness) are nonsense.

What a waste of space. What next? Short people shall inherit the earth???    



max_loh
max_loh

@BenevolentLawyer  Wow dude you truly reek of non-logic. First off why are you so mad over this scientific article and take it as a personal attack; it's just publishing a scientific finding that has been VERIFIED BY OTHER STUDIES IN THE PAST. If you and your family are healthy GOOD FOR YOU (seriously) but anecdotal evidence does not trump myriads of scientific studies. The correlation is probably weak anyway and the people you know happen to be against the trend. 


You know many tall people who don't have cancer? Great; how many people who DO have cancer do you know? Less than 50? Then your knowledge has no statistical strength or credibility. 


Stop denying science just because it offends you, or because you are a PERSONAL counter-example. And honestly I don't even know why this would offend you if you're healthy. 


Congratulations on your good health but maybe you should take a look at your mental health and sense of logic. 

punkakes13
punkakes13

maybe its do to health

like, hormones differences

someone who doesnt grow enough kinda lacks something

some hormone. etc

taller people may have certain hormones that may indulce to cancer in a long time

for me, too short people r already sick,, as i look at them, i think something went wrong

scchong90
scchong90

So, of all the female patients, how many are tall? And how tall is tall, really? 

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Snuggeybug
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moore1980
moore1980

Hmm... maybe I will change my major from geography to epidemiology I can study whether the Beatles or Elvis fans live longer. 

Or rather Democrats or Republicans are more likely to get cancer

HSRCampbell
HSRCampbell

@moore1980 Remember, kids, the difference between science and screwing around is writing it down.

EmmaKate
EmmaKate

I'd just like to say that i'm finding the more i scroll down in the comment section, the more intelligent comments i find, like the ones from @RekkaRiley and @bootsy1. Thank you for not just dismissing this article as bogus because one of your relatives is diagnosed with cancer and 5'1".

anvalesian
anvalesian

Risk of dying of cancer because you're a 6+ feet tall <<<< eating crap fast food all the time, not doing any exercise, smoking <<<< being an impatient idiotic driver texting and not paying attention to other poeple on the road.
Don't worry people, being tall is not what will kill you today, you have other things to worry about...

mullershmidt
mullershmidt

My brother had cancer for no apparent reason--I, on the other hand, am tall and smoke. I don't think you can pinpoint any one thing, except of course realizing that smoking is bad and breathing carcinogens in the air and drinking treated water are also bad. I think you need to concentrate on eating healthy and doing some form of excercise, and not listening to all the BS people are throwing around...