Taller Cancer Risks for Women

Cancer risks were higher in taller postmenopausal women

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) In 2012, the average height of American women over the age of 20 was a just fraction over 5’3”, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A new study has found that women who were taller than average had taller health risks.

Taller postmenopausal women in a 12-year study had greater cancer risks than shorter women.

Even after considering other factors such as lifestyle (diet, smoking and alcohol intake), weight and cancer screening history, height was associated with higher risks of nine different cancers.

"Keep track of your recommended cancer screenings."

Geoffrey Kabat, PhD, senior epidemiologist in the Department of Epidemiology and Population Health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York, NY, and colleagues reviewed data on 144,701 postmenopausal women who participated in the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI).

The WHI was a series of clinical trials and observational studies that began in 1991 to test the effects of postmenopausal hormone therapy, diet modification and calcium and vitamin D supplements on heart disease, bone fractures and breast and colorectal cancer.

This study looked at information on the group of 20,928 women who had been diagnosed with invasive cancer during the 12-year WHI study.

In addition to looking at the role height played, the researchers looked at other factors that can influence cancer development such as age, education, weight, lifestyle, age when menstruation began, childbirth history and the use of hormone therapy to treat postmenopausal symptoms such as hot flashes.

The researchers found a 13 percent increased risk of developing any form of cancer was associated with every 3.94 inch increase in height above the average height (5' 3.77”) of all women in the WHI study.

Height was associated with higher risks of a number of specific cancers, including the following:

  • 13 to 17 percent increased risk of developing melanoma (most serious form of skin cancer), breast, ovary,  endometrial (lining of uterus) and colon cancers.
  • 23 to 29 percent higher risk of developing kidney, rectal, thyroid and blood cancers including multiple myeloma.
  • Other cancer risk factors, including body mass index (BMI — a measure based on height and weight), did not change these results.
  • Height was associated with more cancers than was BMI in this study, the researchers found.

This isn’t the first study to find height as an independent risk factor for cancer. However, it is the first to show that other factors did not change risks associated with height.

"Although it is not a modifiable risk factor, 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," said Dr. Kabat.

This study was published July 25 in Cancer EpidemiologyBiomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

No potential conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 24, 2013
Last Updated:
July 26, 2013