Tall men and prostate cancer risk … It’s not a certainty

Based on a recent British study, media reports are suggesting that, “Taller men are at greater risk for prostate cancer and more likely to have cancer that progresses quickly.” However, The “New” Prostate Cancer InfoLink suspects that height itself is not the issue. Rather, height may serve as a marker for something biological associated with risk for developing cancer. And even so, this risk is small by comparison with more evident risks such as race, age, and family history.

A research team at the University of Bristol in England, led by Luisa Zuccolo, collected data on more than 9,000 men with and without prostate cancer and reviewed 57 relevant studies. The researchers found that the risk of developing prostate cancer increased about 6 percent for every 3.9 inches in height above the shortest men in the study. The average height of the men in the study was 5 feet, 7 inches. This implies that a man who is a foot taller than the shortest person in the study would have a 19 percent increased risk of developing prostate cancer.

Much more importantly, the researchers did find stronger evidence that height was associated with risk for more aggressive tumors. For every 3.9 inches of increased height, the risk of a high-grade tumor rose 23 percent, Zuccolo’s group found.

But if height per se is not the risk factor, then what is?

“One plausible mechanism behind this association could be the insulin-like growth factor-1 system,” stated Zuccolo. However, other experts were less convinced by the data. Dr. Anthony D’Amico, chief of radiation oncology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, has apparently stated that the study findings may be due to chance and not represent a real association.

“When you do a study like this, where you look at a very common attribute like height, eye color or skin color, and then you look at a very common disease like prostate cancer, you can find association that may just be by chance,” D’Amico said.

He added that while there may be an association between height and a high-grade prostate cancer, “that association should not be taken to mean that if you are tall that there is something about being tall and getting high-grade prostate cancer. It could simply be that being tall is a surrogate for something else biological, which may be what is causing the effect.”

“I don’t think that this study convinces me, or makes me conclude that height in and of itself is a risk factor, and we should start screening earlier in men who are above a certain height,” he said.

One Response

  1. That gasp you just heard was the NBA getting their first digital rectal exam.

    Comedy Writer Jerry Perisho

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