The Taller the Greater the Risk

Photo: Measuring tape

Many small men would prefer to
be tall - but it might not only be
advantageous; © SXC

Twelve researchers at four universities in England studied more than 9,000 men with and without prostate cancer and estimated that the risk of developing the disease rises by about six percent for every ten centimeters (3.9 inches) in height a man is over the shortest group of men in the study. That means a man who is one foot taller than the shortest person in the study would have a 19 percent increased risk of developing the disease.

Still, these increases in risk are a lot less than those linked with other established risk factors, such as age, family history of the disease, and race. Because of that, the researchers do not suggest that taller men be screened more often than is typical, or that their cancer treatment be altered.

The authors argue, the factors associated with height - not height itself - could be risk factors for progression to fatal prostate cancer, and a plausible mechanism behind this association could be the insulin-like growth factor-1(IGF-1) system, which stimulates cell growth and has been shown to be involved in prostate cancer incidence and progression.

Because some studies have shown a much greater association between height and prostate cancer risk – some between 20 to 40 percent – the researchers then placed their results in the context of available evidence. They conducted a meta-analysis of 58 studies, and found evidence that greater stature is associated with increased prostate cancer risk. But as in their study, the overall effect varied with study design and was modest – a three to nine percent increase risk of development per ten centimeters, and five to 19 percent increase in risk for more advanced cancer.

“We do not believe that height itself matters in determining risk of prostate cancer or prostate cancer progression, but we speculate that factors that influence height may also influence cancer and height is therefore acting as a marker for the causal factors,” the study’s lead author Luisa Zuccolo said.; Source: American Association for Cancer Research (AACR)