Research published in Lancet Oncology has shown that the taller you are the greater your risk of developing cancer.
Oxford University researchers and colleagues from Spain examined evidence from the Million Women study linking height and cancer. The results revealed that tall women are a third more likely to develop cancer than the more petite and that “being tall increases the risk of cancer like smoking one cigarette a day”.
They showed that the risk of cancer rises by 16 per cent on average for every 10cm (4in) increase in height. This association applied to women with different lifestyles and economic backgrounds and across a wide range of cancers.
The Million Women study, launched in the 1990s, included 1.3 million women in Britain who were studied for the effects of a range of factors on their health, including the contraceptive pill and hormone replacement therapy. Over ten years of follow-up, 97,000 cases of cancer were recorded.
Even though the research was conducted among women, the findings equally apply to men.
Lead author of the study Dr Jane Green, from the cancer epidemiology unit at the University of Oxford, said: “There is no reason to think that the effects are any different in men. This is a really widespread consistent thing.
“The fact that the link between height and cancer risk seems to be common to many different types of cancer in different people suggests there may be a basic common mechanism, perhaps acting early in peoples’ lives, when they are growing.”
“Of course people cannot change their height. And being taller has actually been linked to a lower risk of other conditions, such as heart disease,” she added.
The study helps us better understand how cancer develops, said researchers. But currently, they have no explanation for why, in biological terms, being taller should raise a person’s risk of developing cancer.
One theory is that there are more opportunities for mutations to occur, leading to the development of a malignant growth, because tall people may have more cells in their body. It could also be to do with hormone levels during childhood growth, which have an effect on risk later in life.
Cancer Research UK’s director of health information, Sara Hiom, reassures tall people should not worry about these results:
“Most people are not a lot taller (or shorter) than average, and their height will only have a small effect on their individual cancer risk,” she said.
“On average, people in the UK have a more than one in three chance of developing cancer in their lifetime. So it’s important that everyone is aware of what is normal for their body and go see their doctor as quickly as possible if they notice any unusual changes,” said Hiom.