Tall, and Female? You May Be at Higher Risk for Cancer

It's no joke.  Scientists are discovering that post-menopausal women who are tall see their risk of cancer increase with their height.

Tara Parker-Pope at the NYT writes,"Among nearly 145,000 women between the ages of 50 and 79, researchers found that height was more strongly associated with cancer than such established risk factors as obesity."
Don't panic if you're tall.  It's not your height itself that's the risk factor. It's that height “should be thought of as a marker for one or more exposures that influence cancer risk, rather than a risk factor itself," according to Parker-Pope, referencing the new study authors.

In other words, it's more about your hormones -- and what contributes to growth -- than height itself.  "Cancer involves the uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in processes having to do with growth, so it follows that hormones or other growth factors that influence height may also influence cancer risk, Geoffrey Kabat, lead author of the study and a senior epidemiologist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York, said in a telephone interview with Reuters," Parker-Pope reports.

And here's where the tallness comes in.  "With every extra 10 centimeters (four inches), researchers found, women's risk for cancers of the kidney, rectum, thyroid or blood rose by 23 to 29 percent, and their risk of melanoma and cancers of the breast, ovary, endometrium or colon rose by 13 to 17 percent," Parker-Pope relates.
According to the American Cancer Society, the average woman's lifetime risk of cancer is 38.2 percent.

Diet at an early age figures in here. "For example, tallness is tied to greater consumption of milk proteins by rapidly growing pre-pubescent girls, and in some studies milk intake has been linked with higher levels of a certain protein that may play a role in some of the abnormal cellular processes seen in cancers," according to Parker-Pope. 


“At this point it seems to be a plausible mechanism whereby early nutrition could affect growth and cancer,” Parker-Pope quotes Kabat.


But Kabat explains that it's "also possible that the larger organ size and skin surface area associated with greater height may put more cells at risk of being transformed to malignancies."
So, must you panic, if you're tall?  No, say experts.  There's still no conclusive proof, and it only seems to hold true for women.  At barely 5'2", I've always been envious of tall women, who seem to be able to eat all they want and still stay lean and mean.  And they never have trouble seeing over the heads of others in movie theaters.  But it's always good to watch your diet, exercise and overall health, no matter your size.



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