A new Swedish study has found that taller people have an increased risk of skin cancer and breast cancer, as well as some other cancers. Five million people were studied in order to determine whether height and the risk of cancer are connected.

The results found that in fully-grown adults, an extra four inches of height resulted in an increased risk for developing cancer. In women, that risk increased by 18%, while in men, the risk increased by 11%.

The new study was conducted by researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and presented at a conference of the European Society for Pediatric Endocrinology. The scientists (and their successors) tracked its subjects for more than 50 years.

Findings indicate that taller men and women increased their risk of melanoma by 30% while taller women had a 20% greater risk of getting breast cancer.

Lead researcher Dr. Emelie Benyi noted that the study’s results could aid in identifying risk factors that in turn could lead to treatment developments. She noted however that, “As the cause of cancer is multi-factorial, it is difficult to predict what impact our results have on cancer risk at the individual level.”

Scientists pointed out that height is not the cause of cancer, but it is likely a marker for other factors related to growth. Taller people have more growth factors and more cells in their body than shorter people.

Professor Dorothy Bennett, the head of the molecular cell sciences research center at St. George’s, University of London, agreed that it was “very plausible” that the cancer risk in people could very well be related to the number of cells in their body. More cells means a greater likelihood that some of those cells could develop into cancer. “A cancer arises by mutations from a single normal cell. Bigger people have more cells. So melanoma risk, for example, might be expected to increase with surface area (amount of skin), which is related to the square of height.”

The researchers and other experts acknowledge that the study did not take into consideration several other risk factors and that people who happen to be tall should not be overly worried.

Almost all experts agree that in order to reduce the risk of getting cancer is to live as healthy a lifestyle as possible. Health information manager Sarah Williams articulated this importance. “Whatever your height, there are lots of things you can do to reduce the risk of cancer – not smoking, cutting down on alcohol, eating healthy, being active, having a healthy weight and enjoying the sun safely can each help you stack the odds against the disease.”

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