High White Blood Cell Count May Increase Risk

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When doctors screen for breast cancer, they look for any signs of disease in healthy people with no symptoms.

Today, 3 screening tests are routinely done for breast cancer:

  • mammography
  • breast physical exam, done by a doctor
  • breast self-exam

While highly accurate when done as recommended, none of these screening tests are 100% effective in finding ALL breast cancers. So doctors are always looking for other factors associated with cancers that can be added to the screening mix to improve the chances of detecting breast cancer early, when it's most treatable.

White blood cells help your body fight infection and disease. The number of white blood cells in your body goes up when you're sick and your body is trying to fight off what's attacking it. Doctors wondered if more white blood cells in the body were linked to an increased risk of certain cancers, including breast cancer.

The study's results showed that there was an association between higher than average white blood cell numbers and an increased risk of developing breast cancer in postmenopausal women.

In general, a higher than average white blood cell count isn't something to worry about, especially if you've had a cold or other infection or have allergies. But higher white blood cell counts that last for several months and aren't accompanied by an infection may be a sign that your body is trying to fight off something else.

These results add more evidence to the idea of using white blood cell numbers as part of the screening process for breast cancer. Researchers will continue to evaluate the idea until they're sure it can be a valuable screening tool.

For more information on detecting breast cancer as early as possible, visit the breastcancer.org Screening and Testing section.

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