Widespread causes of jaundice in adults


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8. Pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer develops in the tissues of the pancreas, a gland located behind the stomach in the abdomen. The pancreas secretes enzymes that aid digestion and hormones that regulate the metabolism of glucose, a sugar that provides most of the body’s energy needs. Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death, according to the National Cancer Institute. Risk factors for pancreatic cancer include smoking, obesity, diabetes, chronic pancreatitis, and a family history of pancreatic cancer.

Symptoms of pancreatic cancer often don’t appear until late in the disease and can include upper abdominal pain, jaundice, loss of appetite (anorexia), weight loss, and blood clots. Jaundice associated with pancreatic cancer is usually painless. Pancreatic cancer usually has a poor prognosis or chance of recovery, even if diagnosed early. According to the American Cancer Society, 52% of all people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer have distant disease.

9. Gallbladder cancer

Gallbladder cancer occurs in the tissues of the gallbladder. The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ located on the right side of the abdomen, just below the liver. It stores bile, a digestive fluid produced by the liver. Gallbladder cancer is rare. It is usually not found until it is advanced and causes symptoms. The American Cancer Society estimates that at the time of diagnosis, 80% of all gallbladder cancers have spread beyond the gallbladder. The 5-year survival rate for these cancers is 7-8%.

Gallbladder cancer usually occurs as part of chronic inflammation. In the majority of people diagnosed with cancer, the etiology of this chronic inflammation is cholesterol gallstones. Symptoms of gallbladder cancer can include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, jaundice, loss of appetite (anorexia), fever, and weight loss. The highest rates of this cancer in the United States are found in the Native American and Mexican populations.


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