Previous studies have suggested that being tall increases the risk of cancer among women. The findings of a new study drawn from physical and health data for five million people in Sweden have found similar links between height and elevated cancer risk.
The researchers revealed that for every 10 centimeters (four inches) over one meter in height, the odds of developing cancer increased by 10% in men and 18% in women. The team said that their work was based on the largest group of men and women yet. However, it was not clear if their findings would translate to people who live in different climates, with different diets and genetic backgrounds.
The researchers looked at birth, health and military records of 5.5 million people born between 1938 and 1991. The tallest was 2.25 meter in adulthood.
The team found that for every extra 10 cm, a woman had a 20% higher risk of breast cancer, while there was a jump of 30% for every 10 cm in melanoma risk for both genders.
The new research was met with some scepticism by outside experts who questioned the methodology, and said, "There was a much stronger cancer risk link with factors such as genetics or obesity. Rather than tallness causing an elevated cancer risk, factors like growth hormones may be influencing both traits."
Dorothy Bennett, a scientist at University of London said, "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'. A cancer arises by mutations from a single normal cell. Bigger people have more cells."
Mel Greaves, a researcher at the Institute of Cancer Research in London, added, "Tall people shouldn't worry that they are destined to get cancer."
The findings were presented at a meeting of the European Society for Pediatric Endocrinology.