Research drawn from over five million people in Sweden shows that being tall may be linked to an increased risk of cancer, especially among women. The team was also able to break down precisely what cancers tall people were more at risk of.
Research drawn from over five million people in Sweden shows that being tall may be linked to an increased risk of cancer, especially among women.
After examining massive amounts of physical and health data, the research team from the Karolinska Institutet and University of Stockholm concluded that for every 4 inches over 3.3 feet, the likelihood of developing cancer increases by 10 percent in men and 18 percent in women.
In other words, a Swedish woman who is six feet tall will be 30 percent more likely to have cancer than a woman who is five feet tall.
“Our studies show that taller individuals are more likely to develop cancer but it is unclear so far if they also have a higher risk of dying from cancer or have an increased mortality overall,” said lead researcher Emelie Benyi from Karolinska Institutet.
There have been other studies that suggested this correlation before, however, this is by far the largest study on the link between height and cancer risk ever conducted. The research team examine data on 5.5 million men and women in Sweden, born between 1938 and 1991 and with adult heights ranging between three feet and seven feet.
“To our knowledge, this is the largest study performed on linkage between height and cancer including both women and men,” said Benyi.
“However, our results reflect cancer incidence on a population level. As the cause of cancer is multi-factorial, it is difficult to predict what impact our results have on cancer risk at the individual level.”
The team was also able to break down precisely what cancers tall people were more at risk of. For instance, for every additional four inches, a woman was 20 percent more likely to develop breast cancer. For both men and women, the risk of melanoma increased by 30 percent for every extra four inches in height.
“It sounds an odd relationship at first glance, but it is actually very plausible that the risk of cancer in a person should be related to the number of cells in their body, since that determines the number of cells ‘at risk’,” said Dorothy Bennett, a scientist at University of London. “A cancer arises by mutations from a single normal cell. Bigger people have more cells.”
Scientists do not yet know if their hypothesis holds true for non-Swedish people. Some speculate that living in different climates, eating different foods, and having different genetic backgrounds might affect the outcome of further studies.
A study conducted on women in the United States suggested that every additional four inches in height resulted in a 13 percent higher risk of contracting certain cancers.
Scientists stress that there are far more important factors to cancer risk assessment- such as genetics and weight- than height.
“Tall people shouldn’t worry that they are destined to get cancer,” said Mel Greaves, a researcher at the Institute of Cancer Research in London.
The findings were announced at the 54th Annual European Society for Pediatric Endocrinology Meeting in Barcelona, Spain on Thursday.