Study Links Height to Cancer Risk

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Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks/Flickr

A person’s height can influence his or her risk of developing cancer, latest research reveals.

In a study presented at the annual meeting of the European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology (ESPE) in Barcelona, Spain, taller people were at a greater risk of developing certain types of cancer compared to shorter people.

As part of the research, a team of researchers from Karolinska Institutet and University of Stockholm in Sweden closely followed nearly 5.5 million men and women aged around 20 for almost 53 years (1958-2011). Their heights varied from 100 cm to 225 cm.

Information about the height and health of the participants was collected from various records including the Swedish Medical Birth, Swedish Conscription, Swedish Passport Registers and Swedish Cancer Register.

Results showed that risk of developing cancer increased with every 10 cm increase in height.  The link between height and cancer was particularly strong among women (18 percent) than men (11 percent). Moreover, each 10 cm increase in height was associated with a 20 percent increased risk of developing breast cancer in women and 30 percent greater risk of getting the skin cancer melanoma in both men and women.

However, the experts urged taller people not to panic as the study could not prove that being tall caused cancer. “Being tall doesn’t mean that you will develop cancer,” Susan Gapstur from the American Cancer Society told Health Day.

Researchers have put forward several reasons to explain the link: “One is that taller people have a larger number of cells in their body which could potentially transform to cancer. It could also be that taller individuals have a higher energy intake which has previously been linked to cancer,” lead researcher Dr Emelie Benyi from the Karolinska Institute told The Guardian. 

Another explanation was the role of growth hormones related to height in cancer.  Experts pointed out that the reduced risk of cancer risk found among people with genetic dwarfism was a good example to explain the theory. “We know that in humans growth hormone not only stimulates bone growth during our growing years, but stimulates cell growth in general and blocks cell death. So the level of growth hormone someone has could affect cancer risk by pushing up cell numbers,” Prof. Mel Greaves of the Institute of Cancer Research told The Guardian.

Similar to the current study, in 2013 March, researchers from the Yeshiva University in New York identified a 13 percent increased risk of cancer in women with every 3.94 inches increase in height. Researchers found the association in all the 19 types of cancer they studied, particularly cancers of the breast, colon, kidney, ovary, endometrium, thyroid, multiple myeloma and melanoma.

However, previous studies have also linked short stature to low IQ and deadly diseases like heart disease, strokes, Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes.

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