High white blood cell count may affect cancer risk, says research

In collaboration with the Press Association

People with a high white blood cell count may be more likely to die of cancer, Australian researchers have reported.

The study followed the health of more than 3,000 Australians aged between 49 and 84 from 1992 to the end of 2002.

Those with the highest white blood cell count also had a significantly increased risk of cancer mortality when compared to the group with the lowest count, said researchers.

The relationship between high counts and mortality held up even when other factors such as smoking, diabetes and aspirin use were taken into account.

"The association was also present among those who never smoked, suggesting that the observed association between white blood cell count and cancer mortality is not fully explained by smoking," added the authors.

White blood cell levels increase during inflammation, a process that some researchers think may be linked to cancer development.

These results are the among first to find evidence of a link between inflammation and cancer in large numbers of people, and the first to track it alongside external factors.

The researchers said that aspirin, a drug that acts by reducing inflammation, appeared to have some beneficial effect for those at most risk.

They added that the results are limited to those over middle age and were unlikely to apply to younger people.