Taller People May Be at Increased Risk of Colon Cancer

Should height be considered when screening for colon cancer? A new meta-analysis published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention suggests taller people may be more likely to develop colon cancer than shorter people.

How Much Does Height Affect Colon Cancer Risk?

A research team at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine examined 47 international studies that included more than 280,000 colon cancer cases and 14,000 cases of adenomas.

The study found that individuals in the highest percentile of height had a 24 percent higher risk of developing colon cancer than individuals in the lowest percentile for height. Individuals increased their risk for colon cancer by 14 percent for every four-inch increase in height.

The average American male is 5 feet, 9 inches tall, and the average American female is 5 feet, 4 inches tall (CDC). Therefore, men who are 6 feet, 1 inch tall and women who are 5 feet, 8 inches tall are 14 percent more likely to develop colon cancer and 6 percent more likely to develop adenomas.

Tallness Overlooked as a Colon Cancer Risk Factor

This is not the first time researchers have considered height in colon cancer risk. Experts have studied height as a non-modifiable risk factor for several cancers, including colon cancer. However, previous studies produced inconsistent results and did not include the risk of precancerous polyps called adenomas.

“This is the largest study of its kind to date,” said study co-author Gerard Mullin, MD, associate professor of gastroenterology and hepatology. “It builds on evidence that taller height is an overlooked risk factor and should be considered when evaluating and recommending patients for colorectal cancer screenings.”

Doctors focus primarily on age and genetic risks for colon cancer, but this study suggests tallness could be just as significant of a risk as lifestyle choices and eating habits.

“There are well-known modifiable dietary associations for colorectal cancer, such as processed red meats and smoking, but guidelines currently are fixated on family history, and height is clinically neglected when it comes to risk screening,” Mullins said.

Body Organ Size May Influence Colon Cancer Risk

How does tallness correlate to increased susceptibility to colon cancer? Researchers suspect taller stature means body organs tend to be larger.

“More active proliferation in organs of taller people could increase the possibility of mutations leading to malignant transformation,” said Elinor Zhou, MD, co-first author of the study. More research on this topic is necessary, but Dr. Zhou suggests taller athletes and those with inherited tallness, like those with Marfan’s syndrome, may need to be screened earlier.

Begin Colonoscopy Screenings at 45

Are you due for a colon cancer screening? Colonoscopy is the gold standard of colon cancer screenings because it allows your doctor to inspect the entire colon and remove precancerous polyps before they develop into cancer. It’s the only test that detects and prevents colon cancer.

Most cases of colon cancer are preventable with a routine colonoscopy, beginning at age 45. Call your gastroenterologist and schedule an appointment.