Are Tall People Really More Prone To Cancer, And By How Much?

For the first time on such a large scale, an association has been made between tall people and cancer risk. New research from a team of scientists from Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet and the University of Stockholm analyzed data from five and a half million men and women between the years 1958 and 2011. Study leader Dr. Emelie Benyi says that a clear association has been made between how tall a person is and their risks of developing cancer. They presented the results of their research at the 54th Annual European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology Meeting in Barcelona, Spain.

According to Scientific American, tall people generally earn more than their shorter colleagues, tall people get more dates, and tall people are more likely to get promoted. Regarding cancer risks, it looks like tall people have one major disadvantage.

Tall people are more likely to get cancer.

In fact, every few inches of height advantage a person has makes a huge difference in the likelihood that they will get cancer. For every 10 cm of height, cancer risks in men increase 11 percent. Taller women have an even greater cancer risk over their shorter peers. For every 10 cm in height a tall woman achieves, she is 18 percent more likely to get cancer. Tall women have a 20 percent greater risk of developing breast cancer.

Both men and women who are tall are 30 percent more likely to develop melanoma for each and every 10 cm they stand above their shorter peers.

The researchers aren’t exactly sure why taller people are more likely to get cancer. They have considered that differences in diet and infections during childhood might play a role in taller people’s cancer risks. It’s also possible that it comes down to taller people simply having more cells. For example, scientists were perplexed that elephants so rarely get cancer, because generally, the more cells a living thing has, the more likely it is to get cancer. The researchers considered that having more stem cells might leave tall people more chances of developing cellular mutations. Benyi did point out though that the findings are just likelihoods, and that on an individual scale, it’s impossible to predict who will get cancer based simply on how tall they are.

“It should be emphasized that our results reflect cancer incidence on a population level. 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 team is still questioning whether tall people are more likely to actually die of their cancers, though, or if they’re just more likely to have increased mortality overall, according to Medical News Today.

Earlier, smaller studies tipped the scientific community off to the fact that tall people are more likely to get cancer. British researchers found that for every two inches taller a woman is above five foot three inches, her chances of getting ovarian cancer rose seven percent, according to ABC News. A study published in the Lancet from a few years ago found that taller women were more likely to have ten different cancers. Tall men have also previously been found to have greater risks of prostate cancer. Taller children are more likely to get Type I diabetes according to a previous study. Type I diabetes, according to ABC News is believed to be the result of an autoimmune attack on the pancreas.

Like the Swedish research team pointed out though, scientist Thomas Samaras says that taller people, for whatever reason, don’t live as long as short people do.

“In virtually every population I’ve looked in, short people live longer.”

Samaras says, in a 2012 study he and his research team published in Biodemography and Social Biology, they discovered that, of Sardinian solders who managed to reach 70-years-old, short men lived two years longer than taller men. It’s the same in the United States, Samaras said. Using the Veterans Administrations hospital data, he found that shorter veterans lived longer than their taller veteran counterparts.

While it’s not clear exactly why, if long life rather than careers and dating are the measure, taller people may have gotten the short end of the stick after all.

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