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Women: Being Tall Might Kill You

July 22, 2011

Rheanna Sand

That's right, amazons! Be afraid! Be very afraid! This week, The Lancet Oncology reported a link between women's height and cancer risk… and as a person with, shall we say, limited verticality, I'm trying not to revel in the schadenfreude.

 


 

But don't get too worried, beanpoles - even though this meta-study by Jane Green and colleagues looked at the records of over 1 million U.K. women, there is no clear mechanistic link that can explain why increased height in itself makes you more likely to get cancer. I mean, it's not like there are carcinogens stored in your bones, and the more they grow the more cancer-juice leaks out. It's never that simple. Although taller people are closer to the sun...

The one link that is being explored is a molecule called insulin-like growth factor I, or IGF-I. Levels of IGF-I in the bloodstream correlate positively with childhood growth, and increased IGF-I in adults has been linked to colorectal and breast cancers, among others.

More generally, though, factors of childhood development like nutrition, psychological stress, and illness all play a part in cancer susceptibility. Your socio-economic status and whether or not you smoke also complicate matters. Unfortunately, many studies are limited to few dimensions at a single point in time: what is your height and weight as an adult? Now let's see who has cancer, and make some grand statements. Following a group of people throughout their lives in a cohort study, on the other hand, would help tease out the complexities more fully - and with information technologies as advanced as they are now, there is no excuse for not collecting massive amounts of cohort data.

In the meantime, women: do your part to stay cancer-free. Stop growing, NOW!

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