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Link between height and cancer

Large-scale Swedish study discovers link between height and cancer

BioScientifica Limited

Cancer risk has been found to increase with height in both Swedish men and women, according to research presented today at the 54th Annual European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology Meeting. This long-term study is the largest carried out on the association between height and cancer in both genders.

Researchers from the Karolinska Institutet and University of Stockholm examined 5.5 million men and women in Sweden, born between 1938 and 1991 and with adult heights ranging between 100 cm and 225 cm. They followed the group of individuals from 1958 or from the age of 20 until the end of 2011, and found that for every 10 cm of height, the risk of developing cancer increased by 18% in women and 11% in men. Additionally, taller women had a 20% greater risk of developing breast cancer, whilst the risk of developing melanoma increased by approximately 30% per 10 cm of height in both men and women.

Previous studies have also shown the same association between height and cancer. That is to say, taller individuals have a higher risk of developing different types of cancer, including breast cancer and melanoma. However, this association has never been studied in men and women on such a large scale before. "To our knowledge, this is the largest study performed on linkage between height and cancer including both women and men," said Dr Emelie Benyi, a PhD student at Karolinska Institutet who led the study.

The data on adult heights was collected from the Swedish Medical Birth, the Swedish Conscription, and the Swedish Passport Registers, whereas the cancer data was retrieved from the Swedish Cancer Register. "It should be emphasised that our results reflect cancer incidence on a population level," said Dr Benyi. "As the cause of cancer is multifactorial, it is difficult to predict what impact our results have on cancer risk at the individual level."

The group is now planning on investigating how mortality from cancer and other causes of death are associated with height within the Swedish population. "Our studies show that taller individuals are more likely to develop cancer but it is unclear so far if they also have a higher risk of dying from cancer or have an increased mortality overall," said Dr Benyi.

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