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Tuesday, 26 September, 2000, 13:59 GMT 14:59 UK
Height linked to breast cancer risk
Chinese women dancing
Chinese women are less at risk of breast cancer
A woman's height, as well as her weight, may be a factor in determining her risk of developing breast cancer.

Researchers in the Netherlands have been reviewing the data collected in seven major international research studies and have confirmed that taller women have a slightly increased risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer.

Scientists at Maastricht University looked at research involving 337,800 women, as well as 4,385 cases of invasive breast cancer.

They found that the risk of experiencing breast cancer increased by 7% with each 5cm increase in height for post-menopausal women, with a marginally increased risk among pre-menopausal women.

Reviewing results from previous cohort studies has also reinforced the link between weight and breast cancer risk, they reported in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Women who are significantly overweight later in life are 26% more likely to develop breast cancer compared with those of average weight.

Paradoxically, however, being obese appears to have a protective effect in women before the menopause.

'Tall women should not be anxious'

Dr Tim Key, senior scientist at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund said the link between height and breast cancer risk had first been identified by comparing international statistics.

Women in countries such as Japan and China, who tend to be shorter, are much less likely to develop breast cancer than those in the Netherlands, for example.

But he warned that, while the new data is "interesting scientifically" women should not draw too many conclusions from it.

"It would be very worrying if it terrified more women - it would be unfortunate if tall women were anxious when there is no need.'

Dr Key said that the work of the Dutch team over the past few years in reviewing previous breast cancer research had reinforced clinical knowledge on risk factors.

Previous research has indicated that obesity in postmenopausal women could double a woman's chance of developing breast cancer - though as yet it isn't clear why overweight younger women are less likely to develop breast cancer.

The risk of developing breast cancer before the age of 85 is approximately one in 10 in the UK, and a number of risk factors are well established.

Women who have a strong family history of the disease, linked to mutations in two genes, have a substantially increased risk of developing cancer themselves.

Childless women and those who have a first child after the age of 30, as well as those taking the contraceptive pill or hormone replacement therapy also experience a slight increase in risk.

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26 Sep 00 | Health
Breast Cancer 2000
17 Mar 00 | C-D
Breast Cancer
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Simple test for breast cancer
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