Taller women are at an increased risk of cancer compared to shorter ones, with every 10 extra centimetres of height adding 16 per cent to the risk.
And there is no reason to assume that this finding does not apply to men – it is just that the current result was based on data drawn from a study that tracked 1.3 million women over a 10 year period.
These results build on previous studies showing that there might be a link between cancer and height, and this study shows that the link holds across different lifestyles and backgrounds.
The overall increase in height that has occurred over the last 150 years may provide some explanation for the increase in cancer rates seen in the same period.
Scientists from the University of Oxford looked at the association between height and other factors and cancer incidence in the ‘Million Women Study’. Over 10 years nearly 100,000 cases of cancer were identified.
For women of average height, around 5ft 4in, there were around 850 cancers per 100,000 women per year. This figure increased to 1,000 cancers per 100,000 women per year for women around 5ft 9in tall, and fell to 750 cancers per 100,000 women per year for those around 5ft in height.
The risk of many different types of cancer was also found to increase with height including cancers of the breast, ovary, womb, bowel, leukaemia and malignant melanoma.
Study author Dr Jane Green said: “We showed that the link between greater height and increased total cancer risk is similar across many different populations from Asia, Australasia, Europe, and North America.”
Although there is no explanation as to why increased height is linked to higher cancer rates, Dr Green said: “The link between height and cancer risk seems to be common to many different types of cancer and in different people; suggesting that there may be a basic common mechanism, perhaps acting early in peoples’ lives, when they are growing.”
“Of course people cannot change their height. Being taller has been linked to a lower risk of other conditions, such as heart disease.
“The importance of our findings is that they may help us to understand how cancers develop.”
The results of the study are published online in The Lancet Oncology.