Gallstone disease strong predictor of pancreatic cancer

Researchers have shown through a study that patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) are up to 6 times more likely to have had gallstone disease within the year prior to diagnosis than non-cancer patients. And this, according to researchers, is an indicator that gallstones could be a warning sign for this aggressive and deadly cancer.

PDAC is the most common pancreatic cancer, accounting for more than 90% of cases, and it is often fatal because it tends to be diagnosed in late stages. Scientists say that their findings suggest that gallstone disease may be a way to better diagnose this type of cancer thereby providing us the opportunity to save more lives.

Using records in the SEER-Medicare database from 2008 to 2015, researchers identified 18,700 PDAC patients and compared them to an average of 99,287 patients per year from the same database. In the year before diagnosis, 4.7 percent of the PDAC patients had a diagnosis of gallstone disease and 1.6 percent had their gallbladders removed. Among the non-cancer patients, only 0.8 percent had gallstones and only 0.3 percent had their gallbladders removal.

“Gallstone disease does not cause pancreatic cancer but understanding its association with PDAC can help combat the high mortality rate with pancreatic cancer by providing the opportunity for earlier diagnosis and treatment,” Dr. Papageorge said.

Since many people have gallstones but do not develop pancreatic cancer, future research could look more closely at laboratory findings and imaging to see if there are specific factors related to gallbladder disease that could further distinguish which patients might have or develop pancreatic cancer, Papageorge said.

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