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ScienceShot: Tall People More Likely to Develop Cancer

20 July 2011 7:00 pm
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Jack Hollingsworth

Most people would probably rather be tall than short. But there's a downside to height: tall people are more likely to develop cancer. A study published online today in The Lancet Oncology finds that this relationship holds in women with many types of cancer and across socioeconomic levels. The researchers looked at the incidence of 17 cancer types, from breast cancer to leukemia, over 9 years among 1.3 million women participating in a long-term U.K. health study. Cancer risk rose 16% with every added 10 centimeters in height. The risk was similar when these data were pooled with ten previous studies of cancer and height in men and women in Europe, Asia, Australia, and North America. The adult height of European populations has risen 1 centimeter per decade since 1900, and this could have increased cancer incidence 10% to 15%, the researchers say. Why being taller makes people more vulnerable to cancer is not known, however. One possibility is that the hormones that cause children to grow taller also stimulate the growth of cancer cells.

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