Are taller people more likely to develop cancer than shorter people? It’s a theory that has been tossed around for ages, but a new study that has been carried out by field researchers in Sweden suggests that it may be more than just a theory.
The study, which was led by Dr Emelie Benyi of the Karolinska Institute, involved grabbing health information on 5.5 million people born between the years of 1938 and 1991 of varying heights. Then, comparing the amount of people who developed cancer to those who didn’t, the researchers found that as height between the samples increased, so did the chances of developing cancer.
The findings were shared publicly at the annual European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology, but have not yet been published in any journals.
With skin cancer and breast cancer being the two most common forms of cancer, and other forms of cancer also thrown into the mix, it was found that for every additional 10 centimeters of height, the individuals had approximately an 18% increase in developing cancer if they were women and approximately an 11% increase in developing cancer if they were men.
Notably, similar studies have taken place in other parts of the world, such as the United States, and similar, but not equal, numbers have been reported.
So why is this the case?
One theory is that taller people have more cells in their bodies than short people have, which means there are more cells that are at risk for mutations. It’s just a modified form of the ‘more moving parts’ theory in which when something has more moving parts, there are more things that can break.
"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'," said Professor Dorothy Bennett, a scientist from the University of London.
"A cancer arises by mutations from a single normal cell. Bigger people have more cells, not bigger cells. So melanoma risk, for example, might be expected to increase with surface area, amount of skin, which is related to the square of height."
But just because it makes sense doesn’t mean it’s the absolute answer to the question of why taller people appear to carry a greater risk of cancer. There are various reasons for why things happen the way they do, and almost all of them have to do with our living conditions, lifestyle, diet, and whether or not we smoke or are subject to harmful chemicals on a daily basis.
With that being said, just because you’re tall doesn’t meant you’re going to develop cancer. It relies on many factors, including whether or not you follow a healthy style of living.