Thursday, October 28, 2010

Size really does matter, after all!

Well, hot off the E-press is the latest Lusty Science story about findings reported in the latest British Journal of Cancer.  Apparently, being tall raises your risk of testicular cancer.  Yes, and risk is a matter of the proverbial inches. Every couple of inches raises your risk (if you're a guy--ladies, relax, this isn't about you!) by a whopping 13%.

Now, cancer is nothing to sneeze at, though testicular cancer is often, perhaps usually, completely curable.  But a 13% increase in the normal risk of about 4 in a thousand is roughly 5 in a thousand.  And the baseline of this risk the standard Size for Guys?  Five foot nine inches.

Now why this is, is a mystery, but it certainly merits taking a long look, so to speak.  However, maybe the long look should be at why otherwise idle epidemiologists would think this is a big story.  We don't want to demean the importance of testicular cancer in any way at all, but there are many statistical issues with studies of this kind (which was a meta-analysis of many different studies and, for example, found a lot of inter-study variation in results that the authors couldn't explain). The issue is what such a study actually can mean that is of importance.  The effect is small (so to speak) and no mechanism is suggested (because the same study couldn't find body fat or weight effects).

Now, if you happen to be 7 ft tall, that's 15 inches above average, which still only doubles your risk, if we could even assume the 'trend' were steady enough for such estimates to mean anything reliable.  And the number of 7-footers is so small that hardly any would, at the risk of 8 per thousand, experience the tumor.  Of course, there's no harm in getting regular physicals, or self-checking (just to detect tumors!), just as applies to women and breast cancer risk.  Now, if you're a Shorty, you should feel happy about that, after all.  But remember to put all those SizeMatters pill and device emails in your spam box!  Be happy with what you are.   Stop worrying!  You may not be winners in every size competition, but you come out ahead in other ways.

Your research dollars at work!

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