Researchers Say Gallstones Could Be A Warning Sign Of This Serious Disease

The gallbladder is a small organ that helps the liver digest food. It is located under the liver, and it produces the bile your liver needs to do its job, per Cleveland Clinic. Gallstones are solid deposits of compounds that develop inside the gallbladder. They are either made up of cholesterol, a fatty substance in your blood, or bilirubin, a byproduct created when your gallbladder breaks down red blood cells. Gallstones can be large or small, and you may not know you have one until it blocks a bile duct, causing pain (via WebMD).

Doctors don't know exactly what causes gallstones, but they think they may occur when there is too much cholesterol or bilirubin in your bile, or your gallbladder doesn't completely empty as it's supposed to, according to WebMD. Some gallstones pass on their own, while others may need to be removed. Sometimes gallstones can lead to serious problems. Now, new research is showing that gallstones could be a warning sign of pancreatic cancer.

Some people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer also had gallstones

A study published in Digestive Disease Week News (DDWNews) showed that patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer were six times more likely to have gallbladder disease (including gallstones and gallbladder inflammation) in the year prior to their diagnosis compared to patients that didn't have cancer. The study observed 18,700 patients with pancreatic cancer and compared them to a median of 99,287 patients. They found that those with gallstone disease were more likely to be diagnosed with Stage I or II cancer (47.9%) compared to those that did not have gallstone disease (40.5%).

Dr. Marianna Papageorge, lead researcher of the study, noted that gallstones do not cause pancreatic cancer, pointing out that pancreatic cancer is rare while gallstones are not. However, she said that the research could help improve the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer if patients get follow-up care and undergo screenings (via DDWNews). Pancreatic cancer has the highest mortality rate of all major cancers, and it is the third leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S., according to the Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research.