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Adult height is associated with risk of cancer and mortality in 5.5 million Swedish women and men
  1. Emelie Benyi1,
  2. Marie Linder2,
  3. Johanna Adami3,
  4. Helle Kieler2,
  5. Mårten Palme4,
  6. Lars Sävendahl1
  1. 1 Department of Women's and Children's Health, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
  2. 2 Department of Medicine-CPE (Centre for Pharmacoepidemiology), Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
  3. 3 Sophiahemmet University, Stockholm, Sweden
  4. 4 Department of Economics, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden
  1. Correspondence to Dr Emelie Benyi, Department of Women's and Children's Health, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm SE-171 64, Sweden; emelie.benyi{at}


Background Previous studies have indicated that taller individuals are at greater risk of developing cancer. Death from cancer and other specific causes have also been linked to height, but the results have been inconclusive. We aimed to shed further light on the associations between height, cancer incidence and mortality.

Methods We conducted a nationwide, population-based prospective cohort study, including 5.5 million Swedish women and men (aged 20–74). They were followed over a period of up to 54 years. Heights were retrieved from national registers (mainly the Passport Register where heights are most often self-reported). The risks of overall and specific cancers, as well as overall and cause-specific mortality, were presented as HR with 95% CIs per 10 cm increase in height.

Results A total of 278 299 cases of cancer and 139 393 cases of death were identified. For overall cancer, HR was 1.19 (1.18–1.20) in women and 1.11 (1.10–1.12) in men for every 10 cm increase in height. All 15 specific cancer types were positively associated with height—most strongly for malignant melanoma in both genders, with HRs of 1.39 (1.35–1.43) in women and 1.34 (1.30–1.38) in men. For overall mortality, HR was 0.98 (0.97–0.99) in women and 0.91 (0.90–0.92) in men for every 10 cm increase in height. Cancer mortality was increased in taller individuals, with HR 1.15 (1.13–1.17) in women and 1.05 (1.03–1.07) in men for every 10 cm increase in height, whereas shorter individuals had increased overall mortality due to a number of other causes, such as cardiovascular disease.

Conclusion Overall and specific cancer risks, particularly malignant melanoma, were positively associated with height. Cancer mortality also increased with height. In contrast, overall mortality was decreased with height, particularly in men due to inverse associations with height for other causes of death.

  • tall stature
  • tumour
  • cause of death

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  • Contributors EB, ML, JA, HK, MP and LS planned the study. ML performed the main statistical analyses. EB contributed in the statistical analyses. EB retrieved register data and wrote the first draft of the manuscript. ML, JA, HK, MP and LS contributed in writing the manuscript. Dr David Hägg, Dr Laura Pazzagli and Dr Ondrej Soucek contributed in creating figures. EB and ML had full access to all data in the study and all authors had final responsibility for the decision to submit for publication.

  • Funding The study was funded by the Swedish Research Council (grant number 2015-02406), Stockholm City Council, Stiftelsen Samariten, HKH Kronprinsessan Lovisas Förening för Barnasjukvård and Stiftelsen Frimurare Barnhuset i Stockholm.

  • Disclaimer The study sponsors had no involvement in the study design, writing of the report nor the decision to submit the paper for publication.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Ethics approval The Regional Ethics Board at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm approved all study protocols (approval number 2011/1267-31).

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplementary information.