Being Taller May Increase the Risk of Colon Cancer



Did you know that factors like height could influence your colon cancer risk? According to a meta-analysis by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, taller people are more likely than shorter people to develop colon cancer or colon polyps.

This is not the first study investigating a possible association between taller height and colon cancer. However, previous studies produced inconsistent results and did not include the risk of precancerous polyps called adenomas.

Body Organ Size May Influence Colon Cancer Risk

What is it about height that can make an individual more susceptible to colon cancer? It seems that taller stature means body organs tend to be larger.

“More active proliferation in organs of taller people could increase the possibility of mutations leading to malignant transformation," said Elinor Zhou, MD, co-first author of the study.

How Much Difference Does Height Make in Colon Cancer Risk?

The Johns Hopkins study found that individuals in the highest percentile of height had a 24 percent higher risk of developing colon cancer than individuals in the lowest percentile for height.Individuals increased their risk for colon cancer by 14 percent for every four-inch increase in height.

To put these statistics in more understandable terms, the average American male is five feet, nine inches tall, and the average American female is five feet, four inches tall (CDC). Men who are six feet, one inch tall and women who are five feet, eight inches tall are 14 percent more likely to develop colon cancer and 6 percent more likely to develop adenomas.

What Are Common Risk Factors for Colon Cancer?

Height is only one of many variables in whether an individual will develop colon cancer. There are two categories of risk factors for colon cancer: modifiable and non-modifiable. Non-modifiable risk factors are risk factors that you cannot change, such as the following:


  • Age
  • Family history of colon polyps or colon cancer
  • Personal history of inflammatory bowel disease


Modifiable risk factors are risk factors that you can control through lifestyle choices. These include the following:


  • Unhealthy eating habits
  • High consumption of red meat and processed meat
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Smoking and alcohol usage


Gastroenterologists look at non-modifiable risk factors when recommending colon cancer screenings. However, it is important to consider lifestyle choices when assessing colon cancer risk.

Begin Colonoscopy Screenings at Age 45

Colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in the United States, and family history causes only about 20 percent of diagnoses. Your lifetime risk for colon cancer is about 5 percent (or one in 20). The good news is that most cases of colon cancer are preventable with routine colonoscopies beginning at age 45. It is also important to report any digestive symptoms that may signal colon cancer to your doctor, regardless of age.

A colonoscopy allows your doctor to inspect the entire colon and remove precancerous polyps before they develop into cancer. It’s the only colon cancer screening that can prevent colon cancer, and that’s why it’s known as the gold standard.

Find a Gastroenterologist in Your Area

Have you been putting off scheduling a colonoscopy? Life is busy, but nothing is more important than good health. Simply enter your zip code here to locate a center near you. Then, call today to make an appointment for a colon cancer screening.