Possible links between height and cancer

  • 02/10/2015

Being tall is linked to a higher risk of cancer, especially for women, says new research from Sweden.

For every 10 centimetres over one metre in height, the odds of developing cancer increased by 10 percent in men and 18 percent in women, the research team reported at a medical conference in Barcelona.

A Swedish woman who is 1.72m tall, for example, was about a third more likely to contract cancer than a woman of 1.52m.

The findings, which have not been published in a scientific journal, support similar links between height and elevated cancer risk found in other studies – but the researchers said their work was based on the largest group of men and women yet.

It was not clear if their findings would translate to people who live in different climates, with different diets and genetic backgrounds.

The findings, unveiled at a meeting of the European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology, looked at birth, health and military records of 5.5 million people born between 1938 and 1991. The tallest was 2.25m in adulthood.

It found that for every extra 10cm, a woman had a 20 percent higher risk of breast cancer, while there was a jump of 30 percent in melanoma risk for every 10cm for both genders.

A United States study in 2013, only conducted among women, had found a 13 percent higher risk of developing certain cancers for each 10cm of height.

The new research was met with some scepticism by outside experts, who questioned the methodology and stressed that there was a much stronger cancer risk link to factors such as genetics or obesity.

Rather than height causing an elevated cancer risk, factors like growth hormones may be influencing both traits, they pointed out.

"A cancer arises by mutations from a single normal cell," University of London scientist Dorothy Bennett said.

"Bigger people have more cells."

Mel Greaves, a researcher at the Institute of Cancer Research in London, added: "Tall people shouldn't worry that they are destined to get cancer."