Study says tall men and obese men at greater risk of prostate cancer


A research team from the University of Oxford wanted to look at the relationship between height, obesity, and prostate cancer grade has found that men who are tall and men who are obese are at a higher risk of high grade prostate cancer and cancer death.  This study was published in the journal of BMC Medicine

In the United States, prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men.  Around 1 in 7 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime, with 1 in 39 men estimated to die from the disease. 

Research done in previous years which looked at the relationship between height, body mass index (BMI) and prostate cancer risk has resulted in various conclusions.  One thing that earlier research had not done was to split the data into cancer type.  Previous research did not group tumors into subtypes according to how far the cancer had spread (stage) and how abnormal tumor cells were when compared to normal cells (grade). 

For this study, data was taken from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition, which included 141,896 men from various European countries.  The average age of the study participants was 52.

Out of the men, 7,024 had incidences of prostate cancer of which 726 were high-grade and 1,388 were in an advanced stage.  There were 934 men who died from prostate cancer.

Link with men who are tall

Height in and of itself was not associated with overall risk of prostate cancer, but if a man who is tall develops prostate cancer he has a 21% greater likelihood of high grade disease and a 17% higher risk of death from prostate cancer with every additional ten centimeters (3.9 inches) of height.  The researchers were not able to explain why height may be a factor in prostate cancer but it could provide insights into other mechanisms which could be contributing to prostate cancer development such as nutrition and growth early in a man’s life.

Links with men who are obese

Another aspect the research team observed was that men who had high BMI’s had an associated higher risk of high-grade tumors as well an increased risk of death from prostate cancer. 

The scientists found that waist circumference is a preferred and more accurate method for determining obesity rather than BMI in older adult men.  Men with a higher BMI had an associated risk of 18% higher risk of death from prostate cancer and a 13% greater risk of high grade cancer with every ten centimeters (3.9 inches) increase in waist circumference.  The reason for the higher risk of aggressive prostate cancer in men with high BMI’s may be due to changes in hormone levels in these men.

Men with a healthy body weight were found to have an associated reduced risk of high grade prostate cancer and death years later.  

Members from the research team did concede that more work is needed for a better understanding of why obese men appear to be at a higher risk of aggressive prostate cancer and if that is due to an increased risk of developing aggressive forms of the disease or to differences in prostate cancer detection.  This study further strengthens the recommendation for men to reach a healthy body weight as it is associated with a reduced risk of high-grade prostate cancer and death from prostate cancer.

Of course, men who are tall cannot change their height, but it could be that tall men should be screened carefully and watched more closely over the course of their lifetime for the possibility of developing prostate cancer.