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Heritable variants in common cancer genes link anthropometric features like height with cancer risk.

Many factors contribute to an individual’s cancer risk. It has been known for over 30 years that increased height associates with a higher cancer risk, and other anthropometric traits such as body mass and basal metabolic rate have also shown associations with cancer. However, the mechanism behind these associations has been lacking. By contrast, it is well known that genetic mutations in tumour suppressor and cancer-causing genes affect cancer risk. There are indications from some rare diseases that these mutations may also influence anthropometric features but it is unclear whether these links exist in the broader population.

In this paper published in the published in the Journal of Medical Genetics, Matteo Di Giovannantonio and Benjamin Harris from Gareth Bond’s (Ludwig Oxford) and Francesca Buffa’s (Department of Oncology) research groups respectively analysed data from 500,000 participants in the UK Biobank. They found that common genetic variants in tumour suppressor and cancer-causing genes associate with both anthropometric traits and cancer risk in this general European population. These include variants in the genes FANCA, MAP3K1 and TP53. This work therefore provides important information about the missing link between anthropometric features and cancer risk.