Association between greater leg length and increased incidence of colorectal cancer: the atherosclerosis risk in communities (ARIC) study

Cancer Causes Control. 2019 Aug;30(8):791-797. doi: 10.1007/s10552-019-01192-0. Epub 2019 Jun 4.


Purpose: Previous studies have reported that taller people have an increased risk of colorectal cancer (CRC). We examined the association of two height components-leg length and sitting height-with CRC risk in 14,532 individuals aged 45-64 years in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study.

Methods: Anthropometrics were measured at baseline (1987-1989). Incident CRC cases (n = 382) were ascertained from 1987 to 2012. Cox proportional hazards regression was used to estimate multivariable-adjusted hazard ratios for CRC and colon cancer across quintiles of sex-specific leg length and sitting height.

Results: The highest (versus the lowest) quintile of leg length was associated with a 36% greater CRC risk (p-trend = 0.04), and 51% greater colon cancer risk (p-trend = 0.01). For the top four quintiles combined, risk was increased by 34% for CRC and by 45% for colon cancer versus the lowest quintile. Total height and sitting height were not significantly associated with CRC or colon cancer risk. A small number of cases (n = 57) limited our ability to conduct subgroup analyses for rectal cancer.

Conclusions: A positive association of leg length with CRC and colon cancer risk suggests that biological mechanisms leading to greater leg length during puberty may explain the association between taller height and CRC.

Keywords: ARIC; Colorectal cancer; Leg length; Prospective cohort; Risk.

MeSH terms

  • Atherosclerosis / epidemiology
  • Body Height
  • Cohort Studies
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Leg / anatomy & histology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors