Cancer is a complex disease with countless causes. Cancer can be caused by exposure to carcinogens, diet, and genetic predisposition, according to the American Cancer Association. Knowledge of these potential causes allows those at risk to take the right precautions to ensure health. However, what if height, an immutable factor, was found to cause cancer?

In a new study of 144,701 postmenopausal women, height was found to be associated with increased risk for 19 different types of cancer. These cancers included those of the thyroid, rectum, kidney, uterus colon, ovary, and breast, with the greatest risks related to myeloma (a cancer of bone tissues), leukemia, and melanoma. The women were asked to fill out surveys about their health, habits, and family history of diseases like cancer. Over the 12-year follow-up period of the study, 20,928 of the woman had one or more invasive cancer diagnoses.

Researchers found that for every 10-centimeter increase in height a woman experienced, the risk for particular cancers increased as well. Colon, rectal, and breast cancer risks increased most with height increases. These cancers were 17 percent more likely to occur. On the other hand, there were lesser risks observed for cancers like lung, stomach, brain, and pancreatic. However, the increased risk, based on height, is still present. Most shockingly, there was a 29-percent increase in the risk of developing cancers of the kidney, rectum, thyroid, skin, bone, and blood.

The taller women were also found to have more cancer risk factors as well. Researchers found that the taller women weighed more, had more years of smoking, and drank more alcohol than the shorter women. Similarly, more of the taller women had a history of oral contraceptive use, were current smokers, and spent less time exercising each week. More cancers were associated with height than with body mass index, indicating a new factor that may predispose some to cancer.

However, a taller woman's greater likelihood of cancer could simply be explained by an excess of growth factors, made obvious by her height. "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 Geoffrey Kabat, Ph.D., senior epidemiologist in the Department of Epidemiology and Population Health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and senior author of this study. Cancer is characterized as the uncontrolled growth of the body's cells in particular regions. Because researchers linked height, instead of weight, to cancer risk, it is likely that the bodily mechanisms that provide for height, such as growth hormones, genetics, and diet, can also create a risk for cancer.

"There is currently a great deal of interest in early-life events that influence health in adulthood. Our study fits with this area," said Kabat. And while height is not something that anyone can change, it nevertheless highlights the importance of cancer awareness and avoiding harmful risk factors.

Source: Kabat GC, Anderson ML, Heo M, et al. Adult Stature and Risk of Cancer at Different Anatomic Sites in a Cohort of Postmenopausal Women. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. 2013.