Taller people are more likely to get cancer, experts have found. But they are unsure why this is the case, and say tall people should not be alarmed by the results.
The new study, involving more than one million women, found there is a 16 per cent increased risk of cancer with each additional 4in (10.2cm) of height.
Experts said similar results have been observed in men.
The University of Oxford’s Jane Green, the lead author of the study, said: “The fact that the link between height and cancer risk seems to be common to many different types of cancer in different people suggests there may be a basic common mechanism, perhaps acting early in people’s lives, when they are growing.
“Of course, people cannot change their height. And being taller has actually been linked to a lower risk of other conditions, such as heart disease.”
The study, published in The Lancet, found that those in the shortest group – around 5ft tall or 152.4cm – experienced around 750 cancers per 100,000 women per year. In women of average height (around 5ft 4in or 162.2cm) there were around 850 cancers per 100,000 women per year, and in the tallest group of women (around 5ft 9in or 175.3cm) this increased to around 1,000 cancers per 100,000 women per year.
Overall, taller women had an increased risk of at least 10 types of cancer, including malignant skin cancer, ovarian cancer and leukaemia.
The scientists could not explain why there was a greater risk for taller people, although they have a number of theories. One is that hormone levels in childhood related to growth could influence cancer risk.
While we can’t control our height, there are many lifestyle choices people can make that we know have a greater impact on reducing the risk of cancer such as not smoking. Cancer Research’s Sara Hiom
Another idea is that taller people just have more cells in their body, so have more risk of cells developing changes, which leads to cancer.
Its director of health information, Sara Hiom, said: “Tall people need not be alarmed by these results. Most people are not a lot taller (or shorter) than average, and their height will only have a small effect on their individual cancer risk.
“This study confirms the link between height and cancer paving the way for studies to help us understand why this is so. On average, people in the UK have a more than one in three chance of developing cancer in their lifetime.
“So it’s important that everyone is aware of what is normal for their body and go see their doctor as quickly as possible if they notice any unusual changes.
“And while we can’t control our height, there are many lifestyle choices people can make that we know have a greater impact on reducing the risk of cancer such as not smoking, moderating alcohol, keeping a healthy weight and being physically active.”