Is height associated with cancer risk? Yes, says a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society, which found that for every 10 centimeters (4 inches) above average height a person is, his or her risk of cancer increases by nearly 10 percent, LiveScience reports.
Researchers first suggested a link between height and cancer in the 1950s. Recently evolutionary biologist Leonard Nunney, PhD, at the University of California, Riverside, decided to investigate.
For the study, researchers analyzed data from four large-scale studies examining the health information of hundreds of thousands of cancer patients. They honed in on 23 types of cancer in both men and women and found a strong correlation between height and the risk for 14 different types of cancers, notably thyroid cancer and skin cancer.
So why would taller people have a higher cancer risk? Although the study shows only correlation—not causation—there may a simple explanation: With more cells in their bodies thanks to larger organs, tall people are more likely to experience cell mutations. And because cancer is the result of abnormal cell mutations, it follows that the higher the rate of mutation, the more likely it is that such a mutation will lead to cancer.
What’s more, humans aren’t the only animals in which body size and cancer risk may be linked, said researchers. Large dog breeds, for example, tend to be more likely to develop cancer than smaller ones.
However, not all large animals have an increased risk of cancer. For example, elephants are less likely to develop cancer as they age and appear to live longer than smaller animals. That, said study author Nunney is something researchers like him are increasingly interested in investigating.
“It seems that during evolution, [some] larger animals have developed additional layers of cancer suppression. If we find out how these additional layers work, we might be able to take advantage of that.”
To learn more about how elephant DNA may be the key to fighting cancer, click here.