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Longer Legs Linked to Cancer Risk

Longer legs appear to increase the risk of colon cancer, due to exposure in puberty to greater levels of a growth hormone.

Colorectal cancer has been linked to a number of risk factors, such as inactivity, smoking and eating a lot of red meat. Now, a new study suggests a slightly more surprising risk factor: long legs.

Compared with people who had shorter legs, those with longer legs had a 42 percent higher risk of developing colorectal cancer, according to the new study presented here today (April 19) at the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting.

Evidence from previous studies has suggested that taller people in general are more likely to develop colorectal cancer, said Guillaume Onyeaghala, a graduate student in epidemiology at the University of Minnesota and the lead author of the  study.

Researchers have two hypotheses that may explain the association between height and cancer risk, Onyeaghala told Live Science.

One idea is that because taller people have longer colons (and therefore, more surface area within the organs where colon cancer could develop), they have more chances to develop the condition, Onyeaghala said. The other suggestion is that increased levels of growth hormones — which affect leg length in particular — are also the driving factor for colorectal cancer, he said. (The growth hormone “insulin-like growth factor 1” is elevated during puberty, and has been shown to be a risk factor for colorectal cancers at high levels, the study said.)

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