We’ve all heard that tall people have it better than short people. Tall people tend to earn more money and are perceived to be more intelligent. And, if you are a man, the taller you are, the more desirable you are. And, at least in my experience, they definitely find it easier to get served at the bar.
But now we have a fightback from us Shorties! It was reported today that tall people are more likely to contract cancer than short people. Hah! In your face, lanky! Serves you right for always sitting in front of me at the cinema!
Now, the first thing to say is, don’t panic if you are above average height. The correlation between height and risk of cancer has been known about for years. This present study is just the latest to find the correlation. And, as I previously discussed in Just One Cornetto, correlation is not causation. And we are not talking about direct causes here, we are talking about risk factors, which I discussed back in Chinese Whispers. So just because increased height correlates with an increased risk of cancer, it doesn’t mean that increased height causes cancer. It may (may!) increase the risk, but probably not by a very significant amount.
In one sense, it isn’t that surprising. As I mentioned in No Bootees, cancer is caused by an imbalance in growth signals inside cells. And, obviously, a person’s height is due to the number of these signals they produce as they grow. So, if they are making more signals, they will get taller, but also have an increased chance of an imbalance. But, compared to some other well known risk factors, the chances of this happening are pretty small. Generally speaking, the main risk factors are still the ones we all know; Smoking (which is estimated to cause almost a fifth of all cancer-related deaths), Obesity (which is thought to cause about 1 in 20 cancers) and diet (which is implicated in about 10% of cases). There are also genetic risk factors which can increase the risks massively (eg. it is estimated that 65% of women who carry BRCA mutations will develop Breast Cancer).
Compared to these numbers, the risks of developing cancer from being on the lanky side are pretty small. While the study that has been talked about today has not been published yet, previous studies have shown that height-associated risks were significantly lower than other factors, such as smoking and obesity.
If you want to reduce your risks of cancer, then stop smoking and watch what you eat. And if you have a family history of certain types of disease, investigate the possibility of there being a genetic trait that could be involved. But don’t worry about your height, it aint that big a deal.
So don’t panic, Stretch! And don’t try and take a hacksaw to your kneecaps – It wouldn’t work anyway!
AG McCluskey (2015). Tough Luck, Stretch Zongo’s Cancer Diaries