Pancreatic cancer symptoms often do not appear until the disease is in an advanced stage, thus making early detection difficult. When pancreatic cancer symptoms do appear, they can be vague and non-specific, such as stomach pain and weight loss.
What is the Pancreas?
Pancreatic cancer symptoms can vary based on what part of the pancreas is affected and if it has spread. The pancreas is a gland about 6 inches long that is shaped like a thin pear lying on its side. The wider end of the pancreas is called the head, the middle section is called the body, and the narrow end is called the tail.
The pancreas lies behind the stomach and in front of the spine. It cannot be felt during a physical exam exam and is located behind other organs like the stomach, liver, spleen, gallbladder, and small intestine.
Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms
Below you will find some of the most common pancreatic cancer symptoms:
Yellowing of the Skin and Eyes.
Jaundice, a condition marked by the yellowing of the skin and eyes commonly occurs in people pancreatic cancer. It occurs when an increased level of bilirubin is in the blood. This can occur when a tumor completely or partially blocks bile ducts, slowing the flow of bile.
Abdominal pain is common symptom of pancreatic cancer. It usually occurs on the upper abdomen and may even radiate to the back. Abdominal pain may worsen when lying down or 3 to 4 hours after eating.
Unintended Weight Loss.
While losing weight without trying may welcomed by many, but it can indicate something is wrong. Again, unintended weight loss is a common symptom of pancreatic cancer and one that is usually one of the first symptom experienced along with abdominal pain. Weight loss is common in many types of cancer and other benign conditions.
Again, another vague symptom of pancreatic cancer that is common among many other conditions. Non-specific symptoms, like nausea, often result in a delay in a pancreatic cancer diagnosis.
Loss of Appetite.
Appetite loss is a symptom of hundreds of diseases and conditions, including pancreatic cancer. It can signal something severe or even be related to something as small as a stomach virus. When symptoms are vague like this, medical tests are necessary to make an accurate diagnosis.
Itchy skin is a less common symptom of pancreatic cancer. Again, a vague symptom, but when coupled with another symptom like abdominal pain or jaundice, it can be significant in making a more accurate, timely diagnosis. Unfortunately, when someone with undiagnosed pancreatic cancer is experiencing itchy skin, it is often misdiagnosed as a dermatological condition.
Unexpected Onset of Diabetes.
In some cases, pancreatic cancer may impede the pancreas’ ability to produce insulin, resulting in diabetes. It is important note that most people develop diabetes because of reasons unrelated to pancreatic cancer.
Changes in Stool and Urine Color.
Urine may become much darker, while stools loser their brown color, becoming a pale, clay color. This is often due to the bile duct being blocked. Stools can also have a odd, strong smell. Unsure of what your symptoms may be? Try the Symptom Checker to see what your symptoms could mean.
In this excerpt, provided by UpToDate– an electronic resource used by many patients and their doctors looking for in-depth medical information– you can see how the location of a tumor can impact symptoms a person may experience:
- Symptoms vary depending upon where the pancreatic cancer is located. Cancers that develop in the head of the pancreas tend to block the drainage of bile from the liver to the intestines and typically cause jaundice. In contrast, tumors that arise in the body or tail are less likely to cause jaundice and more often cause abdominal pain, weight loss, and diarrhea.
What to Do If You Have Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of pancreatic cancer, see your doctor. Even if they are not related to pancreatic cancer in the end, they are symptoms that do warrant a medical evaluation. More than likely, you do not have pancreatic cancer. You should know that pancreatic cancer is rare — only 38,000 new cases of pancreatic cancer were diagnosed in 2008.