Taller People Are More Prone to Cancer, Reveals New Study

Taller people may have more to worry about in the future according to a recent study showing that they may be more predisposed towards cancer.
Mario L. Major

In terms of the major illnesses which the scientific community is battling with, cancer still represents one of the biggest dilemmas. And although the picture is becoming clearer about how the cells increase and mutate, there is still much to be done in terms of laying the foundation for treatment methods.


Some research focuses on early preventive care to eradicate the disease before onset, while others focus on gene-editing technology that facilitates the process of killing cancer cells. Now, a biologist from the University of California, Riverside (UC Riverside), Leonard Nunney, has released the details of a study which establishes a clear link between height and cancer risk levels.

Reporting surprising results, he concluded that the chances of cancer are higher for taller people across the board. Not happy news!

A Comprehensive Study Takes Shape

In designing the study, Nunney and his team compiled data gathered from four large-scale projects that covered a broad range of cancer categories, a total of 23. The results reveal a "model of carcinogenesis predict[ing] cancer risk will increase with tissue size, since more cells provide more targets for oncogenic somatic mutation." The larger abundance of cells, therefore, establishes a more fertile ground for these mutations to occur.

Taller People Are More Prone to Cancer, Reveals New Study
Source: UC Riverside

Nunney set up a kind of rough formula to explain the overal risk probability factors: for every additional 10 centimeters of height, there is an added 10 percent increase. In fact, Nunney holds firm to the theory and suggests that the results prove the strong reliablity of the data.

“I tested the alternative hypothesis that height increases cell number and that having more cells directly increases cancer risk,” he said. “The data strongly supported this simple hypothesis. For most cancers, the size of the height effect is predictable from the height-related increase in cell number.”

Differentiating the Data

Although the numbers paint a general picture about risks, there are still certain cancers for which being taller puts people at even more of a risk. “Tall individuals are at increased risk of almost all cancers,” he said.

“But skin cancers – such as melanoma – show an unexpectedly strong relationship to height. This may be because the hormone IGF-1 is at higher levels in taller adults," Nunney added.

Strangely, Nunney's research also revealed that the height difference did not seem to be a factor in four regions: the esophagus, the mouth, the stomach, the pancreas. Another interesting point that came out of the research was that it is serving as the inspiration of future research about the same cancer risk-height phenomenon in certain animals. 

“Smaller dogs get less cancer than bigger breeds of dogs," he explains, adding, “If all else is equal, large, long-lived animals should experience higher incidence of cancer than small, short-lived animals,” he said. 

The details of the study were shared in a paper, titled "Size matters: height, cell number and a person's risk of cancer" which was published October 24th in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B Biological Sciences journal.