Women's health

Taller women at greater risk of ovarian cancer

Taller women at greater risk of ovarian cancer Weight is also a risk factor, study suggests

Taller women are at a greater risk of ovarian cancer, according to a review of a large number of studies.

Ovarian cancer risk was also found to be linked to body fat, as heavier women who have never had hormone replacement therapy (HRT) were also found to be at a higher risk of developing the disease.

The researchers from Oxford University said they hoped the findings may shed light on some of the biological factors involved in the development of ovarian cancer.

Previous research has suggested that a woman's height might be linked to ovarian cancer, but the results have been inconsistent.

The Oxford team analysed data from 47 studies, including around 25,000 women with ovarian cancer and more than 80,000 women without the disease.

Every five centimetre increase in a woman's height was associated with a seven per cent increase in the risk of developing ovarian cancer.

[Related feature: Why ovarian cancer is called the silent killer]

When it came to a woman's weight, the findings showed a 10 per cent increase in relative risk of ovarian cancer for every 5 kg/m2 rise in body mass index (BMI), but only for those who had never taken HRT.

In Western countries, women's average heights have increased by about one centimetre and BMIs have risen by around 1 kg/m2 every ten years. These figures could explain why ovarian cancer cases have risen by three per cent per decade, the scientists said.

[Related story: Body Mass Index calculator]

One of the study leaders, Dr Gillian Reeves of the Cancer Epidemiology Unit, said that tall women may be at greater risk of the disease because they have higher levels of growth hormones or more cells that can become cancerous.

She added that the link between BMI and ovarian cancer may be affected by levels of the hormone oestrogen, which generally rise with increasing amounts of body fat. As oestrogen levels are also likely to be altered with HRT, this may explain why there is a different effect of BMI in HRT users.

Dr Paul Pharoah, an expert in cancer epidemiology at Cambridge University who was not involved in the research, said: "If we compare a woman who is 5ft tall with a woman who is 5ft 6in tall, there is a relative difference in ovarian cancer risk of 23 per cent.

"But the absolute risk difference is small. The shorter women will have a lifetime risk of about 16 in a 1000 which increases to 20 in a 1000 for the taller woman."

Sarah Williams, health information officer at Cancer Research UK, which funded the research, said: "This study included as much evidence as possible to produce a clearer picture of the factors that can affect a woman's risk of developing ovarian cancer, and found that body size was important.

"Women can reduce their risk of this and many other diseases by keeping to a healthy weight. For women trying to lose weight, the best method is to eat healthily, eat smaller amounts and be more physically active."

This article was published on Wed 4 April 2012

Image © Eclipse Digital - Fotolia.com

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