The Roles of Height and Physical Activity in Thyroid Cancer Risk

Hand with a magnifying glass on the banded DNA sequencesWhat roles do genetic factors (such as height) and levels of physical activity at various life stages play in the risk of thyroid cancer for postmenopausal women? 

A recent study led by researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University tackled this question. The study authors examined data on 144,319 postmenopausal women who were enrolled in the National Institutes of Health’s Women’s Health Initiative. The study, titled “Anthropometric factors and physical activity and risk of thyroid cancer in postmenopausal women,” was published in the March 2012 issue of Cancer Causes & Control.

The prospective study focused on 2 subtypes of the disease: papillary thyroid cancer and follicular thyroid cancer. The researchers used Cox proportional hazards models to assess the risks of overall thyroid cancer, and of the 2 subtypes, in relation to the anthropometric and lifestyle factors.

The results suggest that there is a positive association between women’s measured height and thyroid cancer. This finding held for both a woman’s risk for developing thyroid cancer overall, and her risk of developing papillary carcinoma. The study showed a hazard ratio (HR) of 1.15 for overall thyroid cancer for each 5 cm increase in height. For the same height increase, the HR was 1.14 for papillary thyroid cancer.

The study also found that women’s weight at the age of 18 (determined by self-report) was positively associated with their risk of having papillary thyroid cancer. However, no association was found between thyroid cancer risk and the following factors associated with weight and physical activity: women’s baseline weight and BMI; waist and hip circumference; the difference between the self-reported weight at 18 and baseline weight; the waist-to-hip ratio; and, women’s self-reported levels of recreational physical activity. 

The study authors conclude that their research demonstrates that women’s attained stature is a thyroid cancer risk factor for women who have reached menopause.

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