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Chronic Inflammation Could Spur Cancer

Study finds higher risk for malignancy in people with key inflammatory marker

TUESDAY, Jan. 24, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- People with a high white blood cell count -- a sign of inflammation -- are more likely to die of cancer, a new study finds.

The research points to an "important new epidemiological evidence of an essential link between inflammation and cancer mortality," conclude researchers at the National University of Singapore.

Their study included data on nearly 3,200 Australians, averaging close to 66 years of age, who were free of cancer when they were initially evaluated by researchers between 1992 and 1994. By the study's end in late 2001, 212 of the study volunteers had died of some form of cancer.

The risk of cancer death was greatest among study participants with the highest white blood cell counts, the researchers report in the Jan. 23 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine. This was true even when the researchers controlled for other factors that might affect white blood cell count, such as smoking, diabetes and aspirin use.

The link between high white blood cell count and risk of death from cancer was especially strong for people who died of lung cancer.

"In our study, white blood cell count was associated with cancer mortality, even after adjusting for smoking status," the study authors wrote. "In subgroup analysis, 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."

The researchers also noted the risk of cancer death was higher among people with high white blood cell counts who did not take aspirin, compared to those who did take aspirin. This suggests that aspirin may provide a protective effect against cancer for people with a high white blood cell counts.

"Our findings suggest that local inflammatory processes that have long been known to be associated with tumor progression may be reflected in the systemic inflammatory maker of higher white blood cell count," the study authors wrote.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about white blood cell count.

SOURCE: American Medical Association, news release, Jan. 23, 2006
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