A new study found that men and women who tower over their peers just might be more at risk of cancer.

According to Swedish researchers, cancer risks increase with height in both men and women. The early results of their research – the largest study undertaken on the link between height and cancer in both genders – were presented before the 54th Annual European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology Meeting and will eventually be published in full.

The study showed that the risk of women developing any kind of cancer increased by 18 percent for every extra 10 centimeters of height, while the risk of men rose by 11 percent. Height, however, remains less of a risk than smoking, a poor diet, and obesity.

It also found that taller women had a 20 percent greater breast cancer risk, while both genders had about 30 percent greater melanoma risk per every added 10 cm.

“[T]aller people have a larger number of cells in their body which could potentially transform to cancer… [and] have a higher energy intake which has previously been linked to cancer,” said Dr. Emelie Benyi of the Karolinska Institute, who led the research.

The researchers following 5.5 million men and women in Sweden, particularly those born from 1938 to 1991 and with adult heights from 100 cm (3 feet and 3 inches) to 225 cm (7 feet and 5 inches). They studied the group from 1958 or from age 20 until the end of 2011.

Adult height data was collected from Swedish medical birth, conscription, and passport registers, while cancer data was obtained from the Swedish cancer register.

Benyi emphasized that while the study findings could help identify risk factors to develop treatments, the cause of cancer is “multi-factorial,” which makes it difficult to predict results’ impact on cancer risk at the individual level.

While previous studies have made the same link between height and cancer risk, this research studies the association on a large scale, said Benyi, a PhD student at Karolinska Institute.

Cancer remains one of the leading killers worldwide, with almost 14 million new cases and 8.2 million cancer-related deaths in 2012 based on World Health Organization (WHO) data.

Height, on the other hand, is determined by genetics, growth hormone levels, and environmental factors such as diet and infections during childhood.

Photo: Quinn Drombowski | Flickr

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