Shorter people often get the short end of the stick in life, often being the butt of jokes, and may even earn less money. When it comes to cancer, however, it turns out that taller people are substantially more likely to suffer from cancer. A recent study conducted in Sweden found huge variations in cancer rates and an apparent link with the heights of fully grown adults.
The study found that for every 4 inches of additional height, women are 18 percent more likely to suffer from cancer, and men are 11 percent more likely. The study was presented at the European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology conference. The results were a long time coming, with researchers having some 50 years tracking a large number of Swedes. The study was headed by Dr Emelie Benyi.
While the researchers found a correlation between height and cancer, they did not prove a causative link. Researchers warn reading too much into the results, noting that cancer seems to be a multivariable disease, and could be impacted by a wide range of factors.
The Swedish test is only the most recent of a few tests that explored and found a link between height and cancer. A similar study conducted in the United Kingdom found that for every four inches of height gained, a person was 16 percent more likely to suffer from cancer. These numbers are very similar to those observed in Sweden. The test was conducted from 1996 to 2001 and followed 1.3 million people.
In the Swedish test, taller women were found to be 20 percent more likely to suffer breast cancer. When it came to skin cancer, taller men and women were both 30 percent more likely to suffer from the condition.
Other health problems, such as diabetes, have also been linked to increased height.
So why is height linked to cancer?
Evidence has already emerged suggesting that height is linked to cancer. While the Swedish study does appear to be the most complete study to date, it certainly wasn’t the first. Still, while scientists have known about the link for some reasons, coming up with the potential reason why height can increase cancer risks remains much more difficult.
Several theories are being floated to explain the increased risks of cancer, including an increased number of cells, more growth factors, and higher food intake.
One study conducted on genetically modified mice found that the increased presence of growth hormones increased cancer rates. In the experiment mice were genetically modified to produce higher or lower amounts of growth hormone. Those mice modified to produce more growth hormone were more likely to contract cancer.
Growth hormones in general encourage cells to divide and prevent cell death. Cancer itself is a condition in which cells growth spins out of control and begin to rapidly divide. Tumors and cancerous growths can occur as a result. Thus, growth hormones could help set the perfect conditions for cancer cells to grow out of control, and may even provide the spark needed to set off uncontrolled growth.
The increased number of cells that a taller person will generally have (more body mass means more cells), also increases the overall number of cells that could potentially turn cancerous. More cells simply means more opportunities for a cell to be corrupted.
Further, numerous foods have been linked to cancer. Red meats, for example, have been linked to bowel cancer. Acrylamide, a chemical found in baked breads and other goods, has also been linked to cancer. Given that taller people generally need to eat more in order to sustain themselves, it’s possible that increased exposure to chemicals and other things found in food could increase cancer risks.
Add all of it up, and the notion that increased height could lead to increased rates of cancer doesn’t seem so far fetched.
It’s not all bad news for tall people, however. Other diseases have been linked to decreased height. For example, shorter people are fifty percent more likely to suffer from heart disease than tall people. Strokes also appear to be more common among shorter people, as is Alzheimer’s disease.
One reason why shorter people may be vulnerable to disease is because height is often linked to poor nutrition. Other theories, such as body structure, are also being explored.