Cancer warning: Study identifies surprising risk factor – it’s as significant ‘as smoking’

Bowel cancer: Dr Philippa Kaye lists the symptoms

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Cancer incidence rates are predicted to climb as populations continue to age, but more people are surviving diagnosis thanks to earlier detection and treatment. What triggers the disease, however, remains unclear. In the case of some cancers, a person’s height could be implicated in their risk.

According to a new meta-analysis published in the journal of Cancer, Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, being taller correlates with an increased risk of colorectal cancer.

Researchers from the John Hopkins School of Medicine arrived at the findings after adjusting for other cofounding factors influential on the risk of bowel cancer.

Gerard. E. Mullin, associate professor of medicine and director of Johns Hopkins Hospital Integrative GI Nutritional Services, told Healio: “Tallness is an overlooked risk factor for several adverse health conditions and it is not on the radar for doctors to bear in mind when evaluating health maintenance and prevention.

“Those who are considered tall for their culture should be considered for earlier screening for colorectal adenomas than the general population.”

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For the study, the team of scientists looked at 47 international studies with more than 280,000 cases of bowel cancer and more than 14,000 cases of precancerous colon polyps.

The result suggests that the tallest individuals within the highest percentile of height had a 24 percent higher risk of developing colorectal cancer, compared to individuals in the lowest percentile.

Professor Mullin continued: “We knew that there were modifiable factors such as smoking, alcohol use and processed meat consumption that raised the risk of digestive tract cancers that are not considered by doctors in screening for colon cancer, but what about non-modifiable factors?

“We knew that certain conditions with excessive body size and tallness, such as acromegaly and Klinefelter syndrome, raised the risk for colon cancer.”

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According to the data, every 10-centimetre increase in height was associated with a 14 percent higher risk for colon cancer and six percent higher odds of adenoma – or non-cancerous tumour.

The Medical news outlet Healthy reported: “The researchers suggested that allness may be as much of a risk factor for colon cancer as lifestyle factors such as smoking, drinking, and a diet high in processed red meat.”

The link between cancer and height could have a simple explanation; the number of cells in taller people is far greater than it is in smaller people.

Study co-author Doctor Elinor Zhou, said: “One possible reason for this link is that adult height correlates with body organ size.

“More active proliferation in organs of taller people could increase the possibility of mutations leading to malignant transformation.”

The development of cancer is initiated when cells acquire the ability to proliferate, and this can happen anywhere in the body.

Mutations can build up over time, in a slow and progressive manner, explaining why many people are diagnosed later in life.

The cells conglomerate into tumours, which continue to invade neighbouring tissue, in a process known as metastasis.

The majority of cancers are put down to modifiable factors, such as smoking, diet, and drinking.

Reducing the intake of saturated fat and red meat is critical for lowering the risk of colon cancer, and prostate cancer.

Alternatively, people should include more fruits and vegetables in their diet where possible, as these foods are rich in fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals.

Finally, getting more physically active is associated with a lower risk for several types of cancer, including colon cancer.

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