Does height and weight affect the risk of prostate cancer?

Dr. John S. Maul, MD
Hematologist & Oncologist

Although obesity has been linked to increased risk in several types of cancer, it has not been definitively linked to increased risk for prostate cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. Some studies have suggested that obesity may be linked with more aggressive types of prostate cancer and it may also, therefore, be linked with a higher risk of dying from prostate cancer and recurrence of treated prostate cancer but there are conflicting findings. Some studies have also found an association between prostate cancer and certain biological factors related to obesity such as high insulin levels, but again, it is difficult to make any generalizations based on the limited evidence. Currently, the established risk factors associated with increased risk for prostate cancer are age (60+), race/ethnicity (African-American men have the highest risk), and family history (e.g., if a father or brother was diagnosed with the disease).

Numerous studies investigating the relationship between excess weight and prostate cancer have produced inconclusive results—regardless of whether the studies looked at prostate cancer risk or prostate cancer mortality. Additional studies looking at the biological factors associated with obesity and their influence on prostate cancer have also proven inconclusive.

Obesity is a major health threat that affects every part of your body from bones and joints to heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Abdominal fat can, in a way, be considered another organ in the sense that it secretes hormones and other cell-signaling molecules that can have profound effects on other organs. In excess, abdominal fat can compress the kidneys, affect sodium management and eventually lead to hypertension. It can also block the portal vein, which drains blood from your GI tract into your liver, eventually leading to high cholesterol. In combination with high blood pressure and diabetes, a condition known as Metabolic Syndrome arises, this can lead to a plethora of health problems including stroke and cancer.

Preventing weight gain can reduce the risk of many cancers (in addition to the aforementioned conditions), so physical activity and healthy eating habits are two critical steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing some cancers and living a healthier life.

Learn more about the dangers of being overweight:

Of the more than 35 studies on prostate cancer risk, most conclude that there is no association with obesity. Some report that obese men are at higher risk than men of healthy weight, particularly for more aggressive tumors. One study found an increased risk among men with high waist-to-hip ratios, suggesting that abdominal fat may be a more appropriate measure of body size in relation to prostate cancer.

Studies examining body mass index (BMI) and prostate cancer mortality have had conflicting results.

Despite the lack of association between obesity and prostate cancer incidence, a number of studies have examined potential biological factors that are related to obesity, such as insulin-related growth factors, leptin, and other hormones. Results of these studies are inconsistent, but generally, risk has been linked to men with higher levels of leptin, insulin, and IGF–1 (insulin-like growth factor-1).

This answer is based on source information from the National Cancer Institute.

Prostate cancer is a hormone dependent cancer, which means that it depends on male hormones, primarily testosterone, to develop. Men who are hormone deficient, either as a result of disease, treatment, or castration (e.g., testicular cancer, trauma, or sexual reassignment) do not develop prostate cancer. And those who are exposed to higher levels over the course of their lifetimes are thought to be at greater risk. Tallness and childhood obesity may reflect higher testosterone levels at younger ages and thus lead to greater cumulative exposure.

The relationship between tallness and increased risk of prostate cancer has not been consistently found, but the two largest and best prospective studies of men's health in the U.S. have both confirmed the relationship. The Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, which is following nearly 50,000 men in various health-related occupations, has shown that men who are 6'2" or taller have 1.68 times the risk of developing advanced prostate cancer and over twice the risk of metastatic cancer compared to men 5'8" or shorter. The second study, the Physician's Health Study, is a randomized study of 22,000 physicians looking at the effect of beta carotene and aspirin in the prevention of cancer and heart disease. It also has shown that tallness is associated with increased risk of prostate cancer, especially at heights greater than 6'.

Dr. Michael R. Harrison, MD

A Duke study showed that obesity, which affects one in three men in the United States, is associated with prostate cancer spreading and prostate cancer death among men startinghormonal therapy for recurrences after surgery. Previous studies from Duke have shown that obese men are more likely to have cancer come back after surgery, but this is the first study to show obesity is associated with worse outcomes after hormonal therapy.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.