Science-- there's something for everyone

Friday, August 16, 2013

Adult height and cancer risk

This is one of those studies that makes me a bit uneasy. For one thing, the data are still in the preliminary stage. Perhaps more importantly though, if the results do pan out, nobody can really do much about them. The question is whether there’s a correlation between cancer risk and adult female height, and, according to Geoffrey Kabat and his colleagues from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, the answer is ‘yes’.

Nearly 90,000 women in the Canadian National Breast Screening Study were given self-administered questionnaires asking, among other things, their height and weight. These records were linked to the Canadian Cancer Database and to the National Mortality Database. After about 16 years of follow up, there were close to 6,000 cases of invasive cancers at nineteen different body sites.

The women were divided into five height groups ranging from less than 157 centimeters tall to more than 167 centimeters tall (less than 5 feet 2 inches to greater than 5 feet 5.75 inches). Going from the shortest quintile to the tallest increased a woman’s risk of getting some kind of cancer by 24%. The strongest effect was seen for skin cancers.

There were a few exceptions. Women who were current smokers or had ever used hormonal birth control did not show the correlation between height and cancer risk. The association was also weaker for older women than it was for younger woman.

All this means that we really do not have a clear picture of what’s going on. It will take more studies to prove whether the connection between height and cancer risk is valid, let alone to figure out what there might be causing that relationship. By all means, do not attempt to stunt your daughters’ growth.


Geoffrey C. Kabat, Moonseong Heo, Victor Kamensky, Anthony B. Miller, & Thomas E. Rohan (2013). Adult height in relation to risk of cancer in a cohort of Canadian women International Journal of Cancer DOI: 10.1002/ijc.27704.