Healthy Living

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer?

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer?

Key Takeaways

  • Pancreatic cancer symptoms typically manifest themselves only after the cancer grows beyond the pancreas, making it an extremely dangerous condition. 
  • The gastrointestinal (GI) system is most commonly affected by pancreatic cancer.
  • If you have any of the symptoms mentioned above for more than 4 weeks, you should make it a priority to see your doctor about them. 

 Do you want to know the signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer? Symptoms of this disease typically depend on the location of the cancer. Please note that those who have pancreatic cancer typically see their symptoms manifest only after the cancer grows beyond the pancreas itself. This makes it a very dangerous and difficult cancer to treat. 

Here’s an elaboration of the symptoms of pancreatic cancer:

Pancreatic cancer affects surrounding areas and causes symptoms based on where the cancer has spread. The gastrointestinal (GI) system is the one that is most commonly affected. Some gastrointestinal symptoms of pancreatic cancer are:

  • Light-colored stools:

Bile is the pigment that gives color urine and stools, and it contains a pigment called Bilirubin that is responsible for the yellowish colour of bile. Pancreatic cancer may block a person's bile duct. This stops bile from flowing down the digestive tract. Bile helps your body digest fats and then it gets excreted through your stools, but without it, fat is not digested properly, leading to light-colored, pale, and oily stools.

  • Dark-colored urine:

As bile does not pass down the GI tract in affected patients, it stays in the bloodstream and is excreted through urine. Due to an excess of bile, urine becomes a darker color. 

  • Enlarged organs:

When a bile duct is blocked, bile does not pass out of the gallbladder properly, leading to the enlargement of the entire organ. This can also occur in the liver. Doctors are typically able to feel this enlargement, but they may order scans to confirm a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

  • Generalized itching:

Itching all over the body is another symptom of pancreatic cancer. Blockage of the bile duct causes Bilirubin to be deposited under the skin, leading to itching.

  • Jaundice:

Jaundice is a yellowish discoloration of the skin and mucous membranes, such as the whites of the eyes. This also results from an excess of bile.

As their tumors press upon adjacent organs, people with pancreatic cancer may have a feeling of early fullness when they eat. They may also feel as if there’s constantly an uncomfortable swelling in their abdomen.

  • Constipation:

Pancreatic cancer may also lead to constipation. If you have pancreatic cancer, you may find it difficult to pass stools and pass stools less often. Your stools may also float and may be difficult to flush.

  • Diarrhea:

In some cases, pancreatic cancer causes diarrhea, in which you have loose stools and go to the bathroom frequently.

  • Abdominal Pain 

Patients with pancreatic cancer usually experience pain as their tumor grows. This type of pain is dull. It is located in the right abdomen and usually radiates to the back. The pain is typically intermittent, but may become constant as the disease progresses further. Patients with abdominal pain from pancreatic cancer typically feel worse when lying down or after eating and better when sitting forward.

When pancreatic cancer grows, it puts pressure on the nerves surrounding the pancreas. This often results in back pain.

  • Nausea and Vomiting:

These symptoms occur if the pancreatic cancer is pressing on the end of stomach. This disturbs the passage of food out of the stomach, leading to nausea or vomiting.  

  • Difficulty Swallowing:

Some pancreatic cancer patients may not be able to swallow well, or may feel that food is stuck in their throat. They also might feel as if their food comes back up their throat and into their mouth.

  • Diabetes:

Diabetes is a condition that results when your body cannot properly handle sugars, and it results in high blood sugar levels (BSL). A fasting BSL above 126 mg/dl is an indicator of diabetes. Insulin and Glucagon are hormones that are responsible for maintaining your BSL. Pancreatic cancer may impair one’s ability to produce these hormones, and this is what results in diabetes.

  • Weight Loss:

Unexplained weight loss in a normally healthy person is typically a reason to worry. In pancreatic cancer patients, weight loss is natural because the lessened function of the pancreas hampers digestion and absorption of nutrients.

  • Blood Clots:

Deep vein thrombosis takes place when a large clot forms and may be seen in one of the biggest veins in your legs. This leads to pain, redness, warmth, and difficulty moving. A piece of this clot may also get dislodged and block the blood vessels of the lungs. In such cases, patients experience breathing difficulties and chest pain.

  • Abnormal Fatty Tissue:

Fat lies below your skin. An uneven fatty tissue may be seen in pancreatic cancer patients that are caused by malfunction of the pancreatic enzymes that digest fat. 

Other symptoms are:

  • Lack of hunger, or not feeling like eating anything
  • Weakness
  • Fever and chills

The symptoms listed above may symptoms of other diseases such as hyperacidity of the stomach, indigestion, hepatitis, pancreatitis, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). If you develop jaundice, seek immediate medical attention. If you have any of the other symptoms mentioned above for more than 4 weeks, see your doctor. You may need to be screened for pancreatic cancer.