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According to results recently published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, postmenopausal women with higher levels of white blood cells (a type of immune cell) have a higher risk of developing specific types of cancer and dying from cancer.

Inflammatory and immune system processes are thought to play significant roles in the development of some types of cancers. Levels of white blood cells (WBCs), which can be measured in circulating blood, can be used to indicate certain diseases or infections. Researchers continue to evaluate levels of blood cells as potential “markers” or indicators of risk of disease.

Researchers from 40 medical centers in the United States recently conducted a clinical study to evaluate WBC count and the risk of cancer among postmenopausal women. This study included 143,748 women aged 50 to 79 years who had enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) study. Upon initiation of the trial, no patients had been diagnosed with cancer.

  • Women with the highest WBC levels had significantly higher rates of breast, colorectal, endometrial (uterine), and lung cancer compared with women who had the lowest WBC levels.
  • Among non-smokers, women with the highest WBC levels had significantly higher rates of breast and endometrial cancers.
  • Higher WBC levels were also associated with an increased risk of overall death from cancer.
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The researchers concluded that women with higher WBC levels have increased risks of breast, colorectal, endometrial, and lung cancers, as well as an increased risk of overall cancer mortality. Future studies are warranted to further investigate this association.

Reference: Margolis K, Rodabough R, Thomson C, et al. Prospective study of leukocyte count as a predictor of Incident breast, colorectal, endometrial, and lung cancer and mortality in postmenopausal women. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2007;167:1837-1844.

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