Patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma were six times more likely to have had gallstone disease within the year prior to diagnosis of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma than patients without cancer, according to research presented by Papageorge et al at Digestive Disease Week 2022 (Abstract 761). The investigators noted that this finding could be key to better understanding next steps in screening, management, and earlier diagnosis of and intervention for pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma in some patients.
“Pancreatic cancer can be difficult to diagnose and then chances of survival are slim. Our findings suggest that gallstone disease may be a way to better diagnose this type of cancer—meaning we could save more lives,” said Marianna Papageorge, MD, lead researcher on the study and research fellow at Boston Medical Center.
Study Methods and Rate of Gallstones
Using records in the SEER-Medicare database from 2008 to 2015, researchers identified 18,700 patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma and compared them to an average of 99,287 patients per year from the same database. In the year before diagnosis, 4.7% of the patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma had a diagnosis of gallstone disease and 1.6% had their gallbladders removed. Among patients without cancer, only 0.8% had gallstones and only 0.3% had their gallbladders removed.
“Gallstone disease does not cause pancreatic cancer, but understanding its association with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma 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, Dr. Papageorge said.
“It is such a terrible disease, and survival is so low,” Dr. Papageorge said. “People present at such advanced stages, so anything we can do to try to diagnose people earlier and make sure that they’re getting curative treatment is crucial. This might be a key to better understanding next steps in screening, management, and earlier diagnosis.”
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