Tall men are at greater risk of contracting aggressive prostate cancer and of dying from the disease, the findings of a large study suggest.
British scientists found that every 10cm increment in height increased the chance of developing high-grade prostate cancer by 21% and the risk of death from the disease by 17%. They also found that obesity raised the risk of aggressive prostate cancer.
The lead researcher, Dr Aurora Pérez-Cornago from Oxford University, said: “The finding of high risk in taller men may provide insights into the mechanisms underlying prostate cancer development – for example, related to early nutrition and growth.
“We also found that a healthy body weight is associated with a reduced risk of high-grade prostate cancer and death from prostate cancer years later.”
The study, published in BMC Medicine on Thursday, found that increased height was not associated with overall risk of contracting prostate cancer, but only with the aggressive forms of the disease.
Total prostate cancer risk was found to be related to body mass index and waist circumference, but the latter is considered a better proxy for obesity as muscular people can have a high BMI. Every extra 10cm on the waistline was associated with a 13% greater likelihood of having high-grade prostate cancer and an 18% bigger risk of dying from the disease.
Obesity has been linked to 11 common cancers, but the researchers believe their findings on weight could be – at least partially – a result of detection issues.
They say obese men may be less likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer, because they have lower concentrations of prostate-specific antigens, are less likely to undergo a biopsy and tend to have larger prostates, making detection more difficult. A reduced likelihood of early detection and treatment might lead to greater incidence of aggressive disease and higher mortality, the researchers suggest.
The analysis drew from data on 141,896 men, nearly all of whom were white, in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. After an average of 13.9 years of follow-up, there were 7,024 cases of prostate cancer, including 726 high-grade cases and 934 deaths from the disease.
Dr Matthew Hobbs, deputy director of research at Prostate Cancer UK, said: “It is certainly interesting that, according to this research, certain physical characteristics appear to increase a man’s likelihood of developing aggressive prostate cancer, as it might provide pointers to help uncover certain genetic markers and early developmental processes which hold significance in terms of causing the disease to develop.
“It also underlines once again the importance of living a healthy lifestyle to help defend against a host of diseases, including prostate cancer.”
However, Hobbs stressed that the disease could affect men of all shapes and sizes.
In 2014, there were 46,960 new cases of prostate cancer and 11,287 deaths from the disease in the UK, according to Cancer Research UK. Dr Jasmine Just, the charity’s health information officer, said maintaining a healthy weight could help men reduce the risk of contracting a number of different cancers, but that the link between obesity and aggressive prostate cancer was still unclear.
“Further studies are also needed to understand if men who are overweight or obese might be at a higher risk of dying from prostate cancer and, if so, why,” she added.