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A new study finds high blood platelet count is a ‘strong predictor’ of cancer

Researchers in the UK have found that having high blood platelet count is a strong predictor of cancer.

fitness Updated: May 24, 2017 13:38 IST
The most commonly diagnosed cancers after a thrombocytosis diagnosis are lung and colorectal cancer.
The most commonly diagnosed cancers after a thrombocytosis diagnosis are lung and colorectal cancer.(Shutterstock)

A new UK study has revealed the first new strong indicator of cancer in 30 years, finding that having a high blood platelet count can predict who will go on to be diagnosed with cancer, and the researchers urge that it should be used by doctors in order to try to catch the disease early.

Known as thrombocytosis, up to half a million people (2%) of those over the age of 40 in the UK have a raised blood platelet count, with around 1% of the general population developing cancer each year.

Led by the University of Exeter Medical School, the large-scale study is the first to thoroughly investigate the association between thrombocytosis and cancer, looking at 40,000 patient records in the UK.

The team found that 11% of men and 6% of women over the age of 40 with thrombocytosis went on to be diagnosed with cancer within a year.

This number rose to 18% of men and 10% of women being diagnosed with cancer if a second raised platelet count was found within six months.

The most commonly diagnosed cancers after a thrombocytosis diagnosis were lung and colorectal cancer, and one third of these patients had no other symptoms that would indicate to their GP that they had cancer -- except for thrombocytosis.

The team is now urging GPs to consider that those with unexpected thrombocytosis may go on to also be diagnosed with cancer, in order to try to catch the disease early on.

The process of diagnosing cancer on the basis of blood platelet count is called thrombocytosis. (Shutterstock)

“We know that early diagnosis is absolutely key in whether people survive cancer. Our research suggests that substantial numbers of people could have their cancer diagnosed up to three months earlier if thrombocytosis prompted investigation for cancer. This time could make a vital difference in achieving earlier diagnosis,” commented lead author Dr Sarah Bailey, of the University of Exeter Medical School.

Professor Willie Hamilton, of the University of Exeter Medical School, also added that, “The UK lags well behind other developed countries on early cancer diagnosis. In 2014, 163,000 people died of cancer in this country. Our findings on thrombocytosis show a strong association with cancer, particularly in men -- far stronger than that of a breast lump for breast cancer in women. It is now crucial that we roll out cancer investigation of thrombocytosis. It could save hundreds of lives each year.”

The paper can be found online published in the British Journal of General Practice.

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