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Overall, cancer risk increases by 16% for every 4-inch increase in height. These findings were recently reported in Lancet Oncology.

Greater insight into height and cancer risk may help researchers expand their understanding of basic mechanisms that cause cancer. Previous studies have indicated that taller people have a greater general risk of developing cancer. Less has been known, however, about how height is associated with risks for specific types of cancer and whether other factors such as smoking and socioeconomic status affect this association.

To better understand cancer risks associated with height, researchers in the UK evaluated more than 1 million women. During roughly nine years of follow-up, more than 97,000 cancers were diagnosed among study participants. Seventeen different types of cancer were included in the evaluation.

  • Height was associated 10 of the 17 types of cancer studied. These 10 cancer types were breast, lung, colon, endometrium (uterus), ovary, kidney, and rectum, as well as leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and melanoma.
  • The association between height and cancer risk was not affected by socioeconomic status.
  • Among current smokers, height had relatively little effect on the risk of smoking-related cancer.
  • When these results were compared with data from other regions in the world, the association between height and cancer risk was similar across populations.
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Greater height appears to be linked with an increased risk for many cancer types—a finding that suggests a basic common mechanism behind cancer development. The researchers note, however, that taller women should not worry excessively about their cancer risk, and that shorter women should remain vigilant. In short, all women, regardless of height, may benefit from cancer-preventive lifestyle choices and regular screening.

Reference: Green J, Cairns BJ, Casabonne D, et al. Height and cancer incidence in the Million Women Study: prospective cohort, and meta-analysis of prospective studies of height and total cancer risk. The Lancet Oncology [early online publication]. July 21, 2011.

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