Height May Increase Cancer Risk, Says Swedish Study


Don't freak out, tall people. But you're technically more likely to get cancer than the rest of us. That's what a Swedish study is saying, but so far, no one is totally buying it.

The findings, which were announced at a meeting of the European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology Thursday, are based on data from five million people in Sweden. They found that for every four inches over 3'3" you stand, your odds of developing cancer are increased by 10% if you're a man, and 18% if you're a woman. 

Let's take the average American man, as an example. At 5'9", he is two feet and six inches (30 inches) taller than our benchmark of 3'3". That means he's 75% more likely to develop cancer -- almost twice as much -- as a person who stands 3'3" tall. But since the average American man is, well, average, that might be good news for the shorter guy, more than bad news for the taller guy. 

The correlation may not be that direct, though. The findings have not yet been published in a scientific journal, a key part of verifying that the study was performed well and that the results mean what it sounds like they mean. Experts have questioned the findings, and pointed out that obesity and genetics play far greater roles in cancer development. And perhaps growth hormones are playing a role, they added. Anyone using a chemical boost to (illegally and unsafely) increase athletic performance or to (legally and safely) treat a variety of chronic conditions would be more likely to see an increase in both their height, and their cancer risk.

Still, the findings are interesting. In addition to the risk for cancer overall, the findings showed that for every extra 10 cm, a woman had a 20-percent higher risk of breast cancer, and a 30% risk of melanoma (skin cancer). That last point might make sense. After all, taller people have more skin, and thus more skin to expose to the sun. And perhaps this same logic can be extended to all cancers.

"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'," Dorothy Bennett, a scientist at University of London said in comments issued by the Science Media Centre. "A cancer arises by mutations from a single normal cell. Bigger people have more cells."

The findings took into account birth, health, and military records for 5.5. million Swedes born between 1938 and 1991. 

Source: Medical Xpress

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