Hyperbilirubinemia a sign of cancer you might miss

Rosie Strutt discusses late dad’s pancreatic cancer

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One of those symptoms is hyperbilirubinemia. If this term sounds unfamiliar, then it’s a more common term may not be.

Also known as jaundice, the National Library of Medicine defines it as “a yellow discolouration of the body tissue resulting from the accumulation of excess bilirubin”.

It continues: “Deposition of bilirubin happens only when there is an excess of bilirubin, and this indicates increased production or impaired excretion.”

Speaking to the Independent, Pancreatic Cancer UK nurse Jeni Jones said: “Not everyone with pancreatic cancer will get jaundice, although it is very prevalent. It’s a red flag symptom – you might notice it when the whites of your eyes turn a bit yellow, before your skin starts to get that yellow tinge.”

According to the charity, jaundice only tends to occur in those pancreatic cancer patients whose tumour is towards the head, or top, of the pancreas.

Other symptoms which could be easy to dismiss include indigestion, tummy or back pain, unexplained weight loss, appetite loss, itchiness, changes to bowel habits, and recently diagnosed diabetes.

Also included are nausea, blood clots, fatigue, fever, difficulty swallowing food, depression, and anxiety.

On itchiness, this is often related to jaundice, with itchiness developing just before the yellowing. The reason for this is because of the build-up of bile.

As to how itchy, Jones said: “It’s insanely itchy. I’m not talking about a little itch, it would have you scratching to a crazy degree.”

With regard to recently diagnosed diabetes, Jones added that some recently diagnosed with the condition should be wary as cancer can stop the pancreas producing enough insulin, leading to diabetes.

Jones explained: “If you have some of the pancreatic cancer symptoms and you’re suddenly diagnosed with diabetes, then that ought to be a red flag symptom for your GP to think about whether you need a scan to check your pancreas.”

One symptom one might miss of pancreatic cancer is also a symptom present in one of the most common cancers.

A change in bowel habit is most commonly associated with bowel cancer; it is one of the three main symptoms of the disease.

However, it can also be a sign of pancreatic cancer. Jones said: “This is a very, very important one because there are many, many causes of diarrhoea, but this is something we call steatorrhea – when there’s fat present in the stool, which makes it go a yellowy colour, which also happens in jaundice.

“This greasy, yellowy poo that doesn’t flush away is a sure sign that there’s something wrong higher up in the digestive system. If the patient doesn’t describe the specifics of their diarrhoea, it can waste time for diagnosis, and time is of the essence.”

In contrast, in bowel cancer, the stool is more likely to become dark red or tarry as a result of bleeding in the upper bowel.

The main symptoms of pancreatic cancer

While these are some of the symptoms a potential patient might miss, it is always ideal to be wary of the main symptoms as the NHS explains.

These include:
• Jaundice
• Loss of appetite
• Unexplained weight loss
• Feeling tired or having no energy
• A high temperature
• Feeling or being sick
• Diarrhoea or constipation
• Pain at the top part of the tummy and your back
• Symptoms of indigestion.

The NHS added: “If you have another condition like irritable bowel syndrome, you may get symptoms like these regularly.

“You might find you get used to them. But it’s important to be checked by a GP if your symptoms change, get worse or do not feel normal for you.”

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