The ability to reach items on high shelves and easily see through a crowd may no longer have the same appeal for some women. A study recently published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention finds a link between postmenopausal women’s height and cancers.

According to the study, the taller a woman’s stature is, the higher her risk of cancer at a number of different sites, including breast, colon, endometrium, kidney, ovary, rectum and thyroid. Additionally, taller women have a greater risk of developing multiple myeloma and melanoma.

All of these associations did not change after adjusting for known influencers of these cancers, such as age, weight, education, smoking habits, alcohol intake and hormone therapy. The researchers say that height even had more influence over cancer risk than a common measure of obesity, body mass index (BMI).

Researchers studied 144,701 women aged 50 to 79 who participated in the Women’s Health Initiative from 1993 to 1998. After a follow-up 12 years later, in total, 20,928 cancers were identified within the group.

Results showed that for every 10-centimeter increase in height (3.94 inches), there was a 13% increase in likelihood of developing cancer.


  • An increase in risk of 13-17% for breast, ovary, endometrium and colon cancers, as well as for melanoma, and
  • An increase in risk of 23-29% for kidney, rectum, thyroid and blood cancers.

There were 19 cancers studied in total, none of which displayed a negative association with height.

Geoffrey Kabat – senior epidemiologist in the department of epidemiology and population health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Yeshiva University, New York, NY – says:

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.

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.”

Various studies in the past have looked at personal characteristics in relation to cancers. For example, a recent study linked height and BMI to ovarian cancer. An interesting note made by the current researchers is that both height and BMI have been increasing by about 1 cm each decade in high-income countries, potentially increasing the risk for cancer in the process.

Few previous studies have adjusted for other known influencers of cancer when researching the effect of height.

Dr. Geoffrey Kabat makes the obvious point that, unlike other risk factors such as diet and lifestyle, height is not something we can change. He adds, however:

“Although it is not a modifiable risk factor, 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.”

While the researchers found an association between cancer and height, the medical evidence shows it is a complex disease that cannot be linked purely to one factor.