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Why Taller Women Are a Third More Likely To Be Diagnosed with Cancer

Taller women are more likely to get cancer, research reveals today. Their risk of developing some of the most common forms is up to a third greater.

Scientists believe being tall may increase the levels of certain hormones known to trigger tumours.

A study carried out at Oxford University found the risk of cancer increased by around 16 per cent with every four inches of height.

The scientists studied the link between height and ten of the most common forms of cancer including breast, bowel, kidney, womb, ovarian and leukaemia by looking at the medical records of one million British women.

They found those who were 5ft 9in tall were more than 33 per cent more likely to get cancer than those who were just 5ft. 

Researchers say the link may explain why cancer rates have risen so much over the past few decades when our average height has also progressively increased.

Over the course of the last century the height of adults in Europe has gone up by more than a third of an inch (1cm) every ten years. 

And figures show that cancer rates have increased by about 3 per cent every decade.

The scientists suggest an increase in height can explain up to 15 per cent of the rise in cancer cases seen over the past century.

They believe one reason for the link is that tall girls tend to start puberty earlier and this is when their bodies begin producing large amounts of the hormone oestrogen, known to trigger the growth of tumours.

The scientists also point out taller people have more cells in their body so they have a higher chance that one will become cancerous.

Jane Green, from the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at the University of Oxford, said: ‘The fact the link between height and cancer risk seems to be common to many different types of cancer suggests there may be a basic common mechanism, perhaps acting early in peoples’ lives, when they are growing.

‘Of course people cannot change their height. And being taller has been linked to a lower risk of other conditions, such as heart disease.’

Sara Hiom, director of health information, at Cancer Research UK, said: ‘Tall people need not be alarmed. Most people are not a lot taller than average and their height will only have a small effect on their individual cancer risk.

‘This study confirms the link between height and cancer paving the way for studies to help us understand why this is so.’

This study only involved women so it is not clear whether tall men are at risk. But past research has linked height with increases in prostate and testicular cancer.


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