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Being tall increases cancer risk, study shows

Published 02/10/2015

Researchers found that for every extra 10 centimetres in height, the overall risk of developing cancer increased by 11% for men and 18% for women
Researchers found that for every extra 10 centimetres in height, the overall risk of developing cancer increased by 11% for men and 18% for women
Researchers found that for every extra 10 centimetres in height, the overall risk of developing cancer increased by 11% for men and 18% for women

Being tall significantly increases the risk of cancer, the biggest study looking into the link has shown.

Researchers analysed data on 5.5 million Swedish men and women with adult heights ranging between a diminutive 100 centimetres (3.3 ft) and lofty 225 centimetres (7.4 feet).

They found that for every extra 10 centimetres in height, the overall risk of developing cancer increased by 11% for men and 18% for women.

Taller women had a 20% greater risk of breast cancer than short women, while the chances of having melanoma skin cancer increased by around 30% per 10 centimetres of height in both sexes.

Previous studies have also pointed to a link between height and cancer, but the new study is the largest yet carried out.

Lead researcher Dr Emelie Benyi, from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, said: "It should be emphasised that our results reflect cancer incidence on a population level. As the cause of cancer is multifactorial, it is difficult to predict what impact our results have on cancer risk at the individual level."

The findings were presented at the European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology meeting in Barcelona, Spain.

Dr Benyi's team collected information from birth, passport and medical records and investigated cancer rates from 1958 to the age of 20, or the end of 2011.

The scientists now plan to examine possible links between death rates and height within the Swedish population.

"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 Dr Benyi.

Professor Jack Cuzick, director of the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine and head of the Centre for Cancer Prevention at Queen Mary, University of London, said: " The association between height and cancer has been known for some time; many cancers are increased in incidence in tall people.

"This study should add important further confirmation in a population-based setting.

"The mechanisms for this effect are not clear and are worth further study.

"They may relate to the fact that the growth hormones related to height also are in some way stimulating cancer cells, but details are lacking."

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