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Tall people are more likely to get cancer because there’s just more stuff in them

Published Oct 24th, 2018 6:04PM EDT

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There are a lot of things we all know we can do to curb our risk of getting cancer. Avoiding tobacco products is high on the list, as is doing out best to eat unprocessed foods (and maybe even go organic). One thing we definitely can’t control is our height, but past studies have indicated that cancer risk goes up the taller you are.

As the Guardian reports, a new study published in Proceedings of The Royal Society B attempted to determine why that is. Was there some weird cellular quirk in taller people that was increasing instances of cancer, or maybe some link between the roles of genes associated with height and cancer-causing mechanisms later in life?

The data suggests that the only thing to blame is that tall people have more mass, and thereby more tissue that could go rogue.

The study, which looked at the differences in cancer rates between men and women of varying heights, ultimately concluded that the sheer number of cells seems to be the driving factor in how likely an individual is to end up with cancer.

The team made a number of interesting findings along the way, including the strong link between height and melanoma risk which may be linked to a growth hormone that increases cell division. Still, overall cancer rates that increase by around 10% per 10cm of height can be explained simply by the increase in the number of cells in the individual’s body.

Importantly, the differences in cancer rates between men and women specifically do show that there are other factors at play other than height, especially in the case of diseases like cervical cancer. However, the risk of the majority of the 23 cancers studied in this round of research can be explained simply by the fact that there are more cells in the body of a taller person when compared to someone of shorter stature.

Obviously, being tall doesn’t mean you’re doomed to cancer, and the change in cancer risk based on height is relatively small, but doctors urge people of all sizes to mitigate their individual risk by following well-worn advice like dropping cigarettes and eating healthy.