Science Finds a Scary Link Between Height and Prostate Cancer

One in seven men will get prostate cancer during their lifetime, but if you have certain physical characteristics, your chances of dying of it could be higher.

Science-Finds-a-Scary-Link-Between-Height-and-Prostate-Cancer-645189991-RedlineVectorRedlineVector/shutterstockProstate cancer is the most common cancer among men (aside from non-melanoma skin cancers), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But it’s highly treatable—its five-year survival rate is around 99 percent, mainly because this cancer tends to be slow-growing and slow to spread, and because we have early detection, thanks to PSA testing. But certain physical characteristics can make the prognosis significantly less rosy, according to new research.

While the risk factors for prostate cancer are fairly well-known, a research team led by scientists at the University of Oxford has discovered that being larger than average—either taller or fatter—puts men at a higher risk of developing a more aggressive prostate tumor, and, in turn, of dying from it.

For the study, which was published in the journal BMC Medicine, a peer-reviewed publication of BioMed Central, researchers analyzed data from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) involving 141,896 men from eight European countries (Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, the U.K., Germany, and Greece). Of those men, 7,024 were diagnosed with prostate cancer. Of those cancer cases, 726 were aggressive tumors, 1,388 were diagnosed at an advanced stage, and 934 resulted in death.

As it turned out, both height and obesity were associated with being diagnosed with higher-grade tumors and a greater chance of dying of the disease. With every additional 10 centimeters (3.9 inches) of height, the risk of high-grade tumors and death increased by 21 percent and 17 percent respectively. With every 10 centimeters of waist circumference, which was the study’s preferred method for measuring obesity, the risk of high-grade tumors and death increased by 13 percent and 18 percent, respectively.

Though the researchers don’t yet understand the link between height and the aggressiveness of prostate cancer, the study’s lead author, Aurora Perez-Cornago, BSc, MSc, PhDM, told Eurekalert that it’s an opportunity for further study of how factors that influence greater height (such as hormones and childhood nutrition) may come into play in the development of this type of cancer. When it comes to understanding the connection between obesity and aggressive disease, the study authors theorize that the increased hormone levels associated with obesity may also increase the risk of developing aggressive prostate cancer. However, it could also be that obesity may make it more difficult to diagnose the illness at an early (and more survivable) stage, regardless of tumor aggressiveness.

These are the symptoms of prostate cancer you should never ignore. And if you’re worried about getting this type of cancer, you might want to think about ejaculating more frequently (probably more often than you think!).

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Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest, The Huffington Post, and a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers health, fitness, yoga, and lifestyle, among other topics. An author of crime fiction, Lauren's book The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.