Does Growth Hormone Cause Cancer?

P. J. Jenkins; A. Mukherjee; S. M. Shalet


Clin Endocrinol. 2006;64(2):115-121. 

In This Article

Epidemiological Studies

Childhood Growth

Some evidence for a role of GH in carcinogenesis has emerged from normal childhood growth data predicting malignancy in later life. The Boyd-Orr study showed an SD of 1 inch height to be associated with a 42% (95% CI; 5-91%) higher risk of cancer mortality in later life in boys.[14] In this study, no association was found between childhood height and overall cancer mortality in girls. The UK 1946 birth cohort study demonstrated substantially higher risks of breast cancer among women who had been tall at 7 years of age.[15] Peak height velocity (PHV) is difficult to measure, requiring serial measurements of height made regularly over a 5-6-year period. No study has yet directly determined the relationship between PHV and risk of cancer in later life. However, estimated PHV using as a model a function of BMI at the age of 10, age at menarche and final height related to breast cancer risk has demonstrated a linear relationship between PHV and breast cancer.[16] Women who grew fast in adolescence had an approximately 30% increased risk of premenopausal breast cancer and 40% increased risk of postmenopausal breast cancer.

Epidemiological data derived from patterns of growth have also suggested a link with cancer. In a cohort of 117 415 Danish women, high birth weight (7%), high stature at 14 years (15%), low body mass index at 14 years (15%) and peak growth at an early age (9%) were independent risk factors for breast cancer. No effect of adjusting for age at menarche, age at first childbirth and parity was observed.[17]

Final height and cancer risk has been analysed in almost 300 case-control and cohort studies, which have investigated the associations between adult height and the risk of cancer.[18] The most consistent findings were increases in breast cancer by 22% with increased stature (> 175 cm vs. < 160 cm); prostate cancer by 20% (> 180 cm vs. < 170 cm), and colorectal cancer excess of 20-60% between these two height categories for men and women. Endometrial and haematopoietic cancers were also associated with taller heights but fewer published studies are available. A series of recent studies indicate that leg length is the component of height most strongly associated with cancer.[18]

Although an emerging body of evidence is suggestive of a link between greater height in childhood and adulthood and cancer risk, the putative mechanisms resulting in this association remain unclear and could include sex steroid exposure, increased calorie intake and increased total cellularity. Although these possibilities could all be mediated by IGF-1, it remains the case that no causal link between GH/IGF-1 status and cancer risk has been definitively demonstrated in these cohorts.