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Taller Women May Face Higher Cancer Odds After Menopause, Study Suggests

But the research only uncovered an association between height and malignancy risk, not cause-and-effect
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WebMD News from HealthDay

By Alan Mozes

HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, July 25 (HealthDay News) -- Sizing up cancer risk after menopause, scientists say taller women may face higher odds of developing a malignancy than their shorter peers.

For every height increase of roughly 4 inches, older women faced a 13 percent greater overall risk for 19 types of cancer, a new study suggested. When broken down by specific type, risk rose almost one-third for certain cancers.

"At this point there have been enough studies that have pointed in the same direction for us to be reasonably certain that among these women there is an increased risk for cancer with increasing height," said study co-author Dr. Thomas Rohan, chairman of the department of epidemiology and population health at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.

"Although it's a very interesting observation, we don't really know what explains this," Rohan said. "Maybe it's greater organ size or changes in certain hormone levels."

However, since the findings only suggest an association and do not prove a direct cause-and-effect relationship between height and cancer risk, lanky women shouldn't panic.

For the study, published in the August issue of the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, the authors sifted through data previously collected by the Women's Health Initiative. That effort involved nearly 145,000 women who were between 50 and 70 years old when recruited for the study during the 1990s.

The study authors focused on a subset of nearly 21,000 postmenopausal women who had developed at least one form of cancer during a 12-year follow-up period.

After considering a patient's age, drinking and smoking history, educational background, weight and body-mass index, and the use of hormone replacement therapy, the researchers concluded that increased height seemed to be independently linked to an increased risk for cancer.

The association held up even after accounting for each patient's history of undergoing cancer screenings, including mammograms, Pap smears and colorectal exams.

Breast, colon, endometrium, kidney, ovary, rectum and thyroid cancer risk all rose with height, the research team said, as did various forms of myeloma and melanoma.

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