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Adult height has been related to organ-specific malignancies in relatively few studies. Findings are discrepant for some sites and several studies are subject to a series of methodological limitations.We examined the association of adult height with death attributed to 14 cancer sites using data from the original Whitehall cohort. This is a prospective study of 18 403 middle-aged, non-industrial, London-based, male government employees who were examined in the late 1960s and then followed up for mortality for a maximum of 35 years.There were 11 099 deaths during follow-up, 3101 (28%) of which were ascribed to cancer. Cox proportional hazards regression models revealed modest effects for height in relation to site-specific cancers. Following adjustment for covariates that included employment grade (an indicator of socioeconomic position), body mass index and smoking habit, increased height was associated with elevated mortality rates for cancer of combined sites [hazards ratio per 5 cm increase in height (95% confidence interval); P for trend across height categories: 1.05 (1.03, 1.08); P <0.001], lung [1.13 (1.06, 1.20); P <0.001], prostate [1.07 (0.99, 1.15); P=0.08], kidney [1.20 (0.99, 1.46); P=0.08], skin [1.35 (1.06, 1.70); P=0.02] and leukaemia [1.11 (0.96, 1.28); P=0.02].Amongst other explanations, the weak positive height–cancer gradients apparent herein may be ascribed to early life exposures that correlate with adult height, such as high caloric intake.