This week in health news: Taller women more likely to get cancer

Brigitte Nielsen, we know you're pretty tall — are you reading this?  Credit: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images for AMA
Brigitte Nielsen, we know you’re pretty tall — are you reading this?
Credit: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images for AMA

Women’s height linked to cancer risk
Location of study: U.S.
Study subjects: 144,701 postmenopausal women
Results: The taller a woman is, the higher her risk of breast, colon, endometrial, kidney, ovary, rectum and thyroid cancers, according to a study conducted by the Department of Epidemiology and Population Health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York, N.Y. Also, height was a factor in an increase in multiple myeloma and melanoma. The researchers found the risk of developing any cancer increased 13 percent for every 3.94 inch increase in height.
Significance: “In this data set, more cancers are associated with height than were associated with body mass index,” says the department’s senior epidemiologist Geoffrey Kabat, Ph.D. 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.

Some Vitamin B12 products contain a useless form
Location of study: U.S.
Study subjects: Lab study
Results: Some previously accepted sources of vitamin B12, such as spirulina, which is often sold as a dietary supplement, and some shellfish purported to be rich in the vitamin, contain a form of B12 that the body can’t absorb, according to a study published in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. If the body can’t absorb it, then the vitamin is useless.
Significance: Low levels of vitamin B12 are linked to health problems such as pernicious anemia, which can be fatal, and elevated blood levels of homocysteine, which may increase the chances of developing heart disease, stroke and other diseases. In order to prevent vitamin B12 deficiency among susceptible groups — such as vegetarians, vegans and the elderly — the researchers recommended eating certain fermented foods, and foods artificially fortified with B12, such as cereals.

Smokers who seem healthy may have early cell damage
Location of study: U.S.
Study subjects: 21 healthy nonsmokers and 31 smokers with no lung disease symptoms
Results: Just because a doctor gives a smoker a clean bill of health that doesn’t mean damage is not being done to their lungs, say researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College. Their study, published in the journal Stem Cell, found that even smokers who seem healthy have damaged airway cells, with characteristics similar to cells found in aggressive lung cancer. The study compared cells that line the airway of so-called healthy nonsmokers with those from smokers with no detectable lung disease.
Significance: Early into a smoker’s decision to start, “cells are already starting to lose control and become disordered,” says the study’s senior investigator, Dr. Ronald G. Crystal, chairman and professor of genetic medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College. “The smoker thinks they are normal, and their doctor’s exam is normal, but we know at the biologic level that all cigarette smokers’ lungs are abnormal to some degree.”


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