Being Tall May Raise Your Risk for Certain Cancers

Some studies have revealed that taller people are at a higher risk of tumors and cancer. This study evaluated a large population to determine whether the height of a person has an impact on the risk of cancer, after considering other risk factors such as smoking habits and the lifestyle of a person. For this study, 1,297,124 women were followed-up for nearly 10 years, in which a total of 97,376 cases of cancers were detected. It was found in this study that the risk of cancers of colon, rectum, breast, skin, uterine or womb, ovary, kidney, brain, lymphomas and leukemia increased with every 10 cm increase in height.

Studies have shown that taller individuals are more at risk of cancer. The risk of cancers of the ovary, breast, bowel and prostate cancer were found to rise with increase in height. However, these previous studies were small and not much was known about the relation between height and the occurrence of lesser common cancers. Participants of most of these earlier studies also had other factors that may have confounded the results and these include the habit of smoking and lifestyle patterns, as well as socioeconomic status. It was also not known whether these confounding factors could affect the relation between height and cancer. This study tried to evaluate the risk of cancer in relation to the height of a person, in over 1 million British middle-aged female participants, to understand the correlation better.

* This study included a total of 1,297,124 middle-aged British women, who were followed-up over a maximum period of around 10 years.
* All the participants were measured for their height at the beginning of the recruitment, between 1996 and 2001. These participants did not have cancer at the beginning of the study.
* Over the decade, the number of women diagnosed with cancer was observed and the risk of these cancers for every 10 cm increase in height was calculated.
* Specifically, 17 types of cancers were tested in this study.

Key findings
* During the study, a total of 97,376 cases of cancer were detected. The relative risk of getting any of the cancers for every 10 cm of increased height was calculated to be 1.16. Previous studies showed that the risk association of height and cancer had little variation across Europe, Australasia, North America and Asia.
* Specifically, the risk was significant for 10 locations of cancers, namely colon, rectum, skin (malignant melanoma), breast, uterus or womb, ovary, kidney, central nervous system or brain, lymphomas and leukemia (blood cancers). This risk increased for every 10 cm increase in height.
* Socioeconomic status did not affect the risk of any of these cancers. However, those who never smoked were at a significantly lower risk of cancer.
* In participants who were smokers, cancers related to smoking, like oral and lung cancers, were less related to height than the other types of cancers.

Next steps/Shortcomings
The authors agree that this study does not explain the reason behind height and cancer risk. They confirm that it is possible that certain hormones that regulate increased height early in life are also linked to cancer. In such cases, genetics could play a larger role than height in predicting cancer. The authors suggest further studies to evaluate this finding.

This study reveals that increased height can predict the risk of at least ten different types of cancers. This risk occurs in populations across the globe, spanning Europe, Australasia, North America and Asia. Based on this study, the authors suggest that Europeans have gained average height by at least 1 cm over 10 years, in the 20th century. This increase and evidence from this study could explain the 10 to 15 percent increased incidence of cancers in the population than what could have been expected if average heights had been constant. This study also reveals that apart from smoking, other lifestyle factors do not affect the relation between height and cancer. The researchers conclude that height determined by several genetic factors could influence cancer risk and further studies may elucidate this.

For More Information:
Height and Cancer Incidence in the Million Women Study: Prospective Cohort, and Meta-analysis of Prospective Studies of Height and Total Cancer Risk
Publication Journal: The Lancet, July 2011
By Jane Green; Benjamin Cairns; University of Oxford, England

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