We’re becoming increasingly acquainted with some of the major risk factors for cancer — from too much sun exposure and red meat consumption to obesity and poverty — but much of the disease, and why some people contract it while others don’t, remains a mystery. Well, one more piece of the puzzle has appeared. A recent and significant study reported on by Nicholas Bakalar in The New York Times — “Risks: Women’s Cancer Risk Increases With Height, Study Finds” — has found that taller women are more likely to develop cancer than shorter women.
Writes Bakalar: “Researchers at the University of Oxford in England analyzed data on more than 1.2 million British women followed for an average of 9.4 years. There were more than 97,000 cases of cancer among them. The researchers found that for each four-inch increase in height over 5 feet 1 inch, the risk that a woman would develop cancer increased by about 16 percent.” The study examined 17 types of cancer, and found that height was a statistically significant factor for 10 of them.
Similar studies in Asia, Australasia, Europe and North America have also pointed toward this linkage. So why tall women? The answer could be relatively straightforward: cancers are cell mutations, and tall people are at greater risk because they have more cells that could potentially mutate. Also, there are suggestions that growth hormone — more present in taller individuals — could be involved in the formation of cancer.
Tall or short, these studies are a reminder of just how pervasive cancer has become — and how much more we still need to learn about the disease. But with every step — and every piece of seemingly bad or weird news about who is most likely to contract cancer — researchers are hoping that they’re getting closer to fighting it more meaningfully or stopping it before it even starts.