our height could increase your risk of six cancers
Cancer symptoms: Top 14 early signs to look out for
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It is well known that there are a number of factors that can raise your risk of cancer. Diet and weight to lifestyle habits such as smoking and drinking could all increase your chances of the disease. However, there are other factors at play that are beyond our control.
According to World Cancer Research Fund International your height is one such factor.
As part of the association’s Continuous Update Project the team analysed global evidence on the link between diet, weight, physical activity and cancer.
It concluded there was “strong” evidence that the taller you are the more at risk you are of ovarian, prostate, pancreatic, colorectal, breast and kidney cancer.
More specifically it ruled that every extra five centimetres in height increases the risk by the following amounts:
- Kidney – 10 percent increased risk
- Pre and post-menopausal breast cancer – nine and 11 percent respectively
- Ovarian – eight percent
- Pancreatic – seven percent
- Colorectal – five percent
- Prostate – four percent.
Why does height impact cancer risk?
Susannah Brown, science programme manager for World Cancer Research Fund International, explained how the cancer risk lies in the process of becoming tall rather than the height itself.
She said: “The most important thing to remember is that it is not a person’s height itself – ie. the distance from your head to your feet – that increases your risk of cancer.
“Instead, it is the process that your body has undergone to make you tall that is linked to cancer.
“In other words, a person’s final adult height is a visual representation of the growth process that someone’s body has undergone from conception through to adulthood.
“This process is influenced not only by their genes, but also by modifiable developmental factors (eg. growth factors such as insulin, insulin-like growth factor, growth hormone, and sex hormones such as oestrogens) in the womb, and during childhood and adolescence.
“So height should be thought of only as a marker, or indicator, of the whole series of events and experiences from conception to adulthood – and it is identifying what aspect or aspects of this process influences cancer risk that is important.”
Factors that determine height
While height is influenced by genetics, nutrition also plays a role.
“We know that people grow to their maximum height around the age of 20, and that how tall a person grows is influenced in part by their genes as well as the nutritional quality and quantity of the food they receive in their growth and development phase,” Ms Brown said.
“The influence of the environment on height is evident by the increase in the height of populations in many countries at the beginning of the 19th century, reflecting improvements in hygiene and nutrition during that period.
“We also know that the growth of infants can be accelerated by feeding high protein formula, which in turn leads to taller adults. In addition, children who are heavier for their height (mainly due to fat) tend to grow faster and become taller (and fatter).
“These children also reach developmental milestones earlier.
“In high-income countries – where people tend to be relatively tall and obesity rates also tend to be high – the age at which girls see their first period has fallen steadily over the last few decades from about 15 to under 11 years.
“All these processes are directly or indirectly the result of nutrition during development, and altered hormone levels (either hormones related to growth or to sex hormones).
“These hormones influence both the visible structure of people (such as their height) and the growth and behaviour of cells within the body, so it seems likely that these are at least part of the reason that taller people are at higher risk of these six cancers.”
General cancer symptoms include:
- Coughing, chest pain and breathlessness
- Changes in bowel habits
- Unexplained weight loss
- Tummy or back pain.
If you are concerned about any of these symptoms you should see your GP.
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