Researchers have released the results of an intriguing study that suggests a woman's height may be a factor in her risk for developing cancer after menopause. The study, which was supported by the Women's Health Initiative, was highlighted in the latest issue of Cancer Epidemiology, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.
Among 145,000 women between the ages of 50 and 79, researchers found that height was more strongly associated with cancer than some established risk factors, such as obesity. The researchers tracked the women for an average of 12 years, during which time 20,298 of them developed new cancers. Even after adjusting for factors such as body mass index, a woman's risk of developing any cancer rose by 13 percent for every 10 centimeter increase in height (about 4 inches) researchers said.
Researchers took more than a dozen potential risk factors into account, including age, use of oral contraceptives, smoking history, alcohol intake, age at their first menstrual period and education, and they still found that women's height was linked to their cancer risk.
The association held true for everything from thyroid cancer to melanoma. It's not necessarily height itself that is the risk factor, though. The authors of the new study say height "should be thought of as a marker for one or more exposures that affect cancer risk, rather than a risk factor itself."
Some researchers believe that things that occur early in life may feed into a process that increases the risk for various cancers. Those "things" may include diet as well as hormones in the body that contribute to normal growth. Cancer involves the uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in processes having to do with growth, so it follows that other growth factors that influence height may also influence cancer risk. Another theory is that the larger organ size and skin surface associated with greater height may put more cells at risk of being transformed to malignancies.
The study's authors said the results should not raise "significant alarms" for tall people and released the following statement: "The increase is modest and is balanced by a lower risk of cardiovascular disease in taller people, so there is no reason for those of us who are tall to panic. Most importantly, research to understand the reason for the extra risk in taller people may lead us to new ways to prevent or treat cancer."
According to the American Cancer Society, the average risk of a woman developing cancer sometime in her life is 38.2 percent. While there are some factors, such as height and family history, that you can't control, there are many proactive steps you can take to mitigate your cancer risks. Some of them include:
Keep a healthy body weight: Stay active and eat a nutritious diet.
Protect your skin: Use organic sunscreens. Be safe in the sun and don't use tanning beds or lamps.
Get regular screenings: Every type of cancer is more treatable in its early stages.
Stay informed: Learn about the symptoms and signs of cancer and talk to your health care provider if you notice any changes in your body that concern you.
Take women's health supplements: It's important to maintain a healthy diet including women's health supplements that provide all the essential vitamins and minerals in the amounts women need to maintain optimum health.