Don’t believe the hype: health headlines dissected
Around one in eight men will get prostate cancer at some point in their lives. As with any disease it has certain risk factors, but recently the British press reported that being tall could make men more likely to die from prostate cancer.
A large study by researchers at Oxford University investigating the association between height and being overweight was behind the reports, but what’s the truth behind the headlines?
Researchers at Oxford University investigated the association of height and adiposity (severe or morbid overweight) with incidence of, and death from, prostate cancer in 141,896 men in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) cohort.
The team found that the risk of high-grade disease and death from prostate cancer increased by 21% and 17% respectively with every additional 10cm (3.9 inches) of height.
Despite the headlines, aimed at scaring any men over 5 feet 11, the results showed that height alone was not associated with total prostate cancer risk.
Of the men, 932 died from prostate cancer overall. This total includes 159 of the shortest men (under 5 feet 6 inches tall) and 227 of the tallest men (over 5 feet 11 inches tall).
What the study did show is that the risk of aggressive forms of the disease and death ‘increased by 21% and 17% respectively, with every 10cm increment in height’, but those men also had ‘greater adiposity’.
“The findings show that men who are taller and have greater adiposity have an elevated risk of high-grade prostate cancer and prostate cancer death,” concluded the researchers.
The study found that increased height was not associated with overall risk of contracting prostate cancer, but only with aggressive forms, and researchers stressed that height alone was not associated with overall prostate cancer risk.
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.”
Prostate Cancer UK pointed out that the incidence of taller, obese men contracting the aggressive forms of the disease was not as high as papers stated: ‘The increased absolute risk of dying from prostate cancer for the tallest men in the study was only approximately 0.28 per cent’.
Prostate Cancer UK’s Deputy Director of Research, Dr Matt Hobbs, added that the study’s usefulness lies in finding out why the disease develops: “It might provide pointers to help uncover certain genetic markers and early developmental processes which hold significance.”
What the press said:
“Boys, your height could predict if you’ll die from prostate cancer” thesun.co.uk
“Tall men at greater risk of death from prostate cancer” telegraph.co.uk