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Do taller women get more cancer?

27 August 2011

Cynthia Davis from Paradise, CA writes:

Since my daughters and I are tall, could you work on this, please?

The study referenced in the linked article is this one (1)

The authors of the study, lead by Jane Green, compiled data on 1.3 million women in the UK and found that women taller than 5’9″ have a higher incidence of various forms of cancer. Unlike many of the cancer risk association articles I have commented on in the past few months, the statistics in this study appear fairly robust. I could not find an obvious conflict of interest, nor could I find obvious flaws in their methodology.

I would like to point out that this study is a correlation study, not a causation study. From this study alone it is impossible to determine if taller stature leads to a higher incidence of cancer, or cancer leads to taller people. Though I would argue for the former rather than the latter, I feel it would detract from the take-home message.

Image: a recent study suggests that exceptionally tall women develop cancer more frequently than most. If it is a given that taller people will develop cancer with higher incidence than others, the next question to ask is: what can an individual do about it?

One has about as much control over how tall they are as, say, the color of their eyes. One could willingly make oneself shorter by amputation or auto-mutilation, but such acts would likely not have an effect on the underlying biological mechanisms.

In a previous article I commented on the aura of hysteria surrounding things that “cause cancer.” If we accept that some things are simply out of our control, there are a few things that that are BEST to spend mental and physical energy on. These include mitigating sun exposure and smoke inhalation, as well as maintaining a healthy weight and a good dialogue with a primary care physician.

I would like to link a previous article on cancer prevention where I discuss several active means of mitigating cancer risk.

If you’re concerned about developing cancer at a younger age, talk to your doctor and see what types of screening he or she can do. At the very least, starting a dialogue about the topic with a health care professional will help alleviate undue stress and improve mental well being and quality of life.


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