Being Tall May Raise Prostate Cancer Risk

Study Shows Link Between Men's Height and Risk of Prostate Cancer

By Neil Osterweil
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 3, 2008 — The long and short of it is that if you're a tall or leggy man, you may have a slightly higher risk of developing prostate cancer than men of more modest height.

And if you do get prostate cancer, there's a somewhat greater chance that it will be a more aggressive type. 

That's the conclusion of British researchers, who looked at data on more than 9,000 men and found that the taller they come, the higher the prostate cancer risk, and the better the odds that the cancer will be a more serious high-grade form.

Compared with other risk factors for prostate cancer, such as age and race, being height-advantaged adds only slightly to a man's chances of developing the disease.

Some of the factors that make men tall may also raise their prostate cancer risk, says researcher Luisa Zuccolo, MSc, a PhD candidate in the department of social medicine at Bristol University in England.

"A better growth, and possibly a more rapid growth, we find associated with a very modest increase in risk of prostate cancer and a slightly greater risk of more progressive disease," Zuccolo tells WebMD. 

The study should not, however, be cause for concern among the altitudinally gifted, says Anthony D'Amico, MD, PhD, chief of genitourinary radiation oncology at the Brigham & Women's Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

"My bottom line on this study right now is that it's very interesting, but it's not in my opinion ready to act on in terms of clinical implications," D'Amico tells WebMD. "In other words, I don't think we should screen people who are taller at a younger age, because I don't think the level of evidence is strong enough to support that taller people are more likely to get high-grade cancers."

Height-Cancer Link

The researchers speculate that levels of a hormone known as insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-1) in childhood may play a role in cancer risk. Taller men tend to have had higher blood levels of IGF-1 in childhood, and higher blood levels of the growth factor in adulthood have been linked to higher prostate cancer risk.

To find the height-cancer link, they looked at data on 1,357 men ages 50 to 69 who were taking part in a study of prostate cancer therapies, and at an additional 7,990 healthy men. They also combed through studies of a possible link between height and prostate cancer and pooled the results as a means of confirming their findings.

They found that among men in the cancer treatment study, every 10 centimeter (3.9 inch) increase in height was associated with about a 6% increase in prostate cancer risk. But this trend wasn't statistically significant, meaning it could a chance finding. The researchers found significant degree of risk (6% for every 10 centimeter increase in height) when they looked at the combined results of 58 separate studies of prostate cancer and height.

They also found that height, especially in men with longer legs, was also associated with about a 12% to 23% increase in risk for more aggressive high-grade prostate cancer. Taller men did not, however, appear to be at any greater risk for low-grade, slower-growing prostate cancer.

The study appears in the September issue of Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention.

SOURCES: Luisa Zuccolo, MSc, Bristol University, England. Anthony D'Amico, MD, PhD, chief of genitourinary radiation oncology, Brigham & Women's Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston. Zuccolo L. Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention, September 2008.

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