Updated 26 July 2013

Tall women face higher cancer risk: study

Taller women may face a higher risk of many cancers than their shorter counterparts, according to a US study.


Taller women may face a higher risk of many cancers than their shorter counterparts, according to a US study released Thursday.

Researchers looked at a sample of nearly 145 000 postmenopausal women aged 50 to 79 for the analysis published in the US journal Cancer Epidemiology.

They found that each additional 10 centimeters (four inches) of height was linked to a 13% higher risk of getting cancer.

"Ultimately, cancer is a result of processes having to do with growth, so it makes sense that hormones or other growth factors that influence height may also influence cancer risk," said lead author Geoffrey Kabat, senior epidemiologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York.

Findings of the study

After 12 years of following women who entered the study without cancer, researchers found links between greater height and higher likelihood of developing cancers of the breast, colon, endometrium, kidney, ovary, rectum, thyroid, as well as multiple myeloma and melanoma.

The height association remained even after scientists adjusted for factors that might influence these cancers, such as age, weight, education, smoking habits, alcohol consumption and hormone therapy.

"We were surprised at the number of cancer sites that were positively associated with height. In this data set, more cancers are associated with height than were associated with body mass index (BMI)," added Kabat.


Some cancers saw an even higher risk among taller women, such as a 23% to 29% increase in the risk of developing cancers of the kidney, rectum, thyroid, and blood for each additional 10 centimeters of height.

None of the 19 cancers studied showed a lower risk with greater height.

The study did not establish a certain height level at which cancer risk begins to rise, and Kabat said it is important to remember that the increased risk researchers found was small.

"It needs to be kept in mind that factors such as age, smoking, body mass index, and certain other risk factors have considerably larger effects," he said.

"The association of height with a number of cancer sites suggests that exposures in early life, including nutrition, play a role in influencing a person's risk of cancer."


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Ask the Expert

Cancer expert

CANSA’s purpose is to lead the fight against cancer in South Africa. Its mission is to be the preferred non-profit organisation that enables research, educates the public and provides support to all people affected by cancer. Questions are answered by CANSA’s Head of Health Professor Michael Herbst and Head of Advocacy Magdalene Seguin. For more information, visit

Still have a question?

Get free advice from our panel of experts

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

* You must accept our condition

Forum Rules