According to the results of a study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, & Prevention, girls who reach their maximum height by the age of 12 years may have an increased risk of developing breast cancer later in life.
Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer (other than non-melanoma skin cancer) in U.S. women. The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be over 178,000 new breast cancer diagnoses in U.S. women in 2007 and roughly 40,000 breast cancer deaths.
Risk factors for breast cancer include increasing age, family history of breast cancer, early age at first menstrual period, late age at first birth, alcohol intake, obesity/weight gain, and use of postmenopausal hormones.
A potential risk factor that has received relatively little attention in previous studies is age at which maximum height is attained. It’s possible that the early exposure to growth hormones that accompanies an early pubertal growth spurt may influence later breast cancer risk.
To explore the relationship between age at maximum height and risk of breast cancer, researchers conducted a study among more than 27,000 women between the ages of 50 and 76. In addition to collecting information about age at maximum height, the study also collected information about age at first menstrual period, age at first birth, and other factors that may influence breast cancer risk.
During an average of four years of follow-up, 585 of the study participants were diagnosed with breast cancer.
- Compared to women who reached their maximum height at age 17 or later, women who reached their maximum height by the age of 12 were 40% more likely to develop breast cancer.
- Early age at maximum height appeared to be most strongly linked with estrogen receptor-negative cancers and cancers that had spread beyond the breast.
- The link between age at maximum height and risk of breast cancer persisted even after accounting for factors such as age at first menstrual period and age at first birth.
The researchers conclude that the age at which maximum height is attained appears to influence the risk of breast cancer. Girls who reach their maximum height at an early age may have a modestly increased risk of breast cancer later in life.
Reference: Li CI, Littman AJ, White E. Relationship between age maximum height is attained, age at menarche, and age at first full-term birth and breast cancer risk. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, & Prevention. 2007;16:2144-9.
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