Taller people are at greater risk for cancer

September 1, 2011

The incidence of many types of cancer increases with increasing adult heigh, according to findings of a recent study.

The incidence of many types of cancer increases with increasing adult height, according to the findings of a recent study from Europe.

Researchers from the United Kingdom and Spain used 1,297,124 middle-aged women from the Million Women Study, the largest study to date to investigate cancer risk in women, as their prospective cohort and then also performed a meta-analysis of published prospective studies on the topic.

During 11.7 million person-years or about 10 years of follow-up, 97,376 cancers occurred. The researchers calculated that every 10 cm increase in height increased the risk for cancer by about 16%. That finding did not vary significantly by socioeconomic or smoking status, alcohol intake, body mass index, exercise level, age at menarche or first birth, parity, menopausal status, or use of oral contraception or hormone replacement therapy. The only exception is that the rate was significantly lower in never-smokers (P<0.0001).

Once the researchers reviewed 10 other studies involving both men and women from around the world in addition to their own, they found the results differed little across Europe, North America, Australasia, and Asia. This lack of differentiation both geographically and by cancer site suggests a basic common mechanism is at work, but what exactly that is remains a mystery.

Green J, Cairns BJ, Casabonne D, Wright FL, Reeves G, Beral V; for the Million Women Study collaborators. Height and cancer incidence in the Million Women Study: prospective cohort, and meta-analysis of prospective studies of height and total cancer risk. Lancet Oncol. 2011;12(8):785-794.