Tall women at higher risk for breast cancer
Cancer symposium reveals other risks, cures
June 19, 1996
Web posted at: 1 a.m. EDT
From Correspondent Jeff Levine
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A new cancer study released Wednesday found that the taller a woman is, the more likely she is to get breast cancer.
However, Dr. Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health was quick to qualify his group's findings.
"This probably doesn't mean that every woman who is tall is at high risk for breast cancer, or that short people are immune from breast cancer," he said during a conference at the National Institutes of Health.
In other words, a growing girl's diet influences how quickly she grows and puts on weight. Her height and weight determine when menstruation begins, "and early menstruation periods are a strong and well-established risk factor for breast cancer," Willett said.
In a study of about 1,500 Asian-American women, increased height and weight meant a greater chance of getting breast cancer. Women at least 5 feet 6 inches tall had double the risk of women 4 feet 11 inches or shorter.
The results don't necessarily mean that diet is destiny, but over time, too much of a good thing can be devastating. "We also gain weight throughout our adult life, and that does translate into higher risk of breast cancer after menopause," Willett said.
The findings were presented at a meeting sponsored by the General Motors Cancer Research Foundation. Scientists also reported on hormonal approaches to controlling breast cancer.
Research found that using drugs to reduce the amount of estrogen produced in the breast could help prevent cancer. Cancer researcher Pentti Siiteri said that new armitase inhibitors now coming into production can block the formation of estrogen.
Weight is also thought to be related to dangerous estrogen levels. "Obesity increases the production of estrogen, and therefore may explain the increased risk associated with obesity for endometrial cancer and breast cancer," Siiteri said.
Breast cancer claims about 50,000 lives a year. Scientists say they are getting closer to drugs that can prevent the disease. In the meantime, researchers still say a healthy lifestyle is the best prevention.
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- Small breast cancers found earlier, but often overtreated -- study - March 26, 1996
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