Introduction Adult height is a marker for genetic factors as well as for environmental, hormonal and nutritional factors occurring early in life. Evidence so far suggests that taller people are more likely to be diagnosed and die from cancer than shorter people, which we verify in a large multicentre prospective cohort study.
Methods Within the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC), standing height was measured in adults (216 280 women and 131 544 men) from nine countries between 1991 and 1999. Within the follow-up period that comprised 9.8 years on average, 2716 men and 2692 women died of cancer. HRs of cancer mortality according to height were estimated from Cox proportional hazard models adjusted for smoking status, educational level, alcohol consumption, physical activity, weight and waist circumference.
Results Preliminary analyses showed that cancer mortality rates were higher among taller than among shorter men and women. Among men, a 6% increase in the hazard rate was observed for every 5 cm increase in height (HR=1.06, 95% CI 1.03 to 1.10). A very similar increase was seen in women (HR=1.06, 95% CI 1.02 to 1.10).
Conclusions These initial findings suggest that factors leading to higher attained adult height or its consequences affect cancer mortality rates in Europeans. Further work will include analyses on cancer incidence and site-specific risks. Our observations do not have direct implications for cancer prevention but could point to underlying mechanisms and thereby trigger further research. The latter may lead to public health interventions on the long term.
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