A new study led by the University of Exeter revealed that people with high platelet levels, or a condition more commonly known as thrombocytosis, were more likely to develop cancer within a year, compared to people with normal platelet levels.

The study, published in the British Journal of General Practice, showed that raised blood platelet count could be used as a strong indicator of cancer. This means that physicians should consider a diagnosis of cancer to patients with unexpected increase in their blood platelets levels.

"We know that early diagnosis is absolutely key in whether people survive cancer," said lead author Dr Sarah Bailey, of the University of Exeter Medical School, in a press release. "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."

For the study, the researchers analyzed nearly 40,000 patients record collected from UK Clinical Practice Research Datalink. The researchers compared the patient records of over 30,000 individuals diagnosed with thrombocytosis to more than 8,000 people with normal platelet levels.

The researchers found that 11.6 percent of the males and 6.2 percent of the females in the thrombocytosis group were diagnosed with cancer. These were significantly higher than the group with normal platelet levels, in which only 4.1 percent of the males and 2.2 percent of the females developed cancer. The risk of cancer increases significantly when a second thrombocytosis event is recorded within six months, climbing to 18.1 percent for the males and 10.1 percent for females.

Patients with thrombocytosis were more commonly diagnosed with lung and colorectal cancer. One-third of patients with lung or colorectal cancer and thrombocytosis present no other symptoms that would indicate that they have cancer.

Cancer is considered to be the second leading cause of death in the United States. Nearly 600,000 patients die annually due to cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.