Researchers find greater incidence of cancer in tall people

Here is an interesting story about research that found a correlation between height and incidence of cancer. Generally I despise health news covered by television news because they generally butcher the science or oversell the conclusions that are appropriate based on the research. What I like about this story is that if you listen carefully there are elements here relevant to our class.

  • This study is valid because it followed 5.5 million people over a long period of time. Large sample size and longer time give the study more weight.
  • The experts say that there isn’t an understood cause just yet simply a correlation between height and incidence of cancer.
  • They go on to speculate about how height might cause increased risk but they acknowledge that they don’t know. Is it because you have more cells in your body that can go bad? Is it because you have more skin exposed to the sun? Growth hormone? Maybe. They don’t know that any of those theories are true but they seem to have found a correlation in a study in one country. When doing scientific research, especially about health, skepticism is important.

One last thing to think about is whether a study done in Sweden can be applicable to people in general. Is there something unique about the environment there? Diet? Genetics? Would these results still be true if done in a country that gets more sunlight year round?

Considering all these factors should illustrate to you why it’s so hard to come to conclusions about human health.

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