Recent studies have shown that tall people have an increased risk of developing cancer because they have more cells in their bodies. The more cells someone has, the more chance that harmful cell mutations can occur.
Prior studies have confirmed links between being tall and developing cancer. The research showed that cancer risk increased about 10% for every 10cm of height. These studies have all suggested different explanations, such as growth hormones, environmental factors, or illnesses. One study even put forth that some kind of occurrence early in life caused a person to be both tall and more likely to get cancer.
But Leonard Nunney, professor of biology at the University of California Riverside, now believes the matter to be much simpler. Taller people have more cells, and when you have more cells, there’s more places for things to go wrong.
Nunney’s study was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. His work is based on the basic model of how cancer develops through cell mutations. He looked at the risk of both men and women developing cancer with increasing height based on calculations of the number of cells in a body.
The study revealed that the women had a 13% increased risk for every additional 10cm in height and that men had an 11% predicted increase for every 10cm of height. Overall, those with more height had an increased risk for 18 out of the 23 cancers that were considered.
The most significant takeaway from this study, according to Nunney, is that the number of cells someone has is what’s most important. It doesn’t matter how someone got to be tall. “Whether that comes from a better diet or the fact that your parents happen to be tall doesn’t matter,” said Nunney. “It is purely a number of cells, however that comes about.”
Professor Dorothy Bennett, director of the Molecular and Clinical Sciences Research Institute at St. George’s University of London, was pleased with Nunney’s research, but warns that some of it rests upon a lot of assumptions. For example, he makes the assumption that cancer risk increases in direct proportion to adult height.
Nonetheless, she believes that he makes some reasonable points. The best takeaway from this study is that we now know when height and cancer correlate, we don’t need to look at any factors other than cell number.
What does this mean for tall people?
According to Georgina Hill from Cancer Research UK, tall individuals don’t need to be worried about their height. “A number of studies over the years have shown that taller people seem to have a slightly higher risk of cancer,” she said. But she also said that the increased risk is very small. So whether you’re short, tall, or average, it’s always best to reduce your cancer risk as much as you can with factors you can control. Maintain a healthy weight, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, exercise, and quit smoking.