healthHealth and Medicine

Dear Tall People: We Have Bad News


Jonathan O'Callaghan

Senior Staff Writer


Lots of factors can contribute to cancer, but if you're tall, it can't hurt to get checked out. Ana Tenne/Shutterstock

A study has claimed that tall people may be at greater risk of cancer because they have more cells.

Published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the study from the University of California, Riverside involved more than a million people from the US, Europe, and South Korea. Previous studies have suggested a similar link.


In the research, Professor Leonard Nunney and colleagues predicted that a 10-centimeter (4 inches) increase over average height would correspond to a 13 percent increased risk of cancer in women, and a 11 percent increase for men. The actual figures were close – 12 and 9 percent respectively.

"If you were comparing a 5-foot guy to a basketball player who's 7 feet tall, then that basketball player has around twice the risk of cancer across the board," Professor Nunney told ABC News.

"Now, you can't do anything about your height, but what you can do is tell extremely tall individuals that they should be aware of this, and if they have any concerns, to get checked."

Out of 23 cancers studied, 18 were found to have height as a factor. And speaking to The Guardian, he suggests there is a rather simple explanation.


“Whether that comes from a better diet or the fact that your parents happen to be tall doesn’t matter… it is purely a number of cells, however that comes about,” he said.

Tall people were found to have an increased risk of melanoma, for example, because having more skin means higher rates of cell division.

Some large mammals like elephants and giraffes are thought to have evolved in-built safeguards against cancer, but the same is not clear in humans.

Not all were convinced, however. Cancer Research UK's Georgina Hill, also speaking to The Guardian, said the increase in risk was small, “and there’s plenty you can do to reduce the risk of developing cancer, such as not smoking and keeping a healthy weight.”


As mentioned, previous studies have linked height with not only cancer, but other things like varicose veins. There are many factors that cause cancer, of course, but if Professor Nunney and his team are right, you might want to get yourself screened if you’re particularly tall.


healthHealth and Medicine
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