Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms & Signs

Pancreatic cancer is often referred to as a “silent cancer” because it is thought that the early symptoms can be vague and unrecognised.  Pancreatic cancer symptoms however can present themselves early in many cases.  Here are some of the most common symptoms to look out for:

Classic pancreatic cancer symptoms can include:

  • Painless jaundice (yellow skin/eyes, dark urine, itching).
  • Weight loss which is significant and unexplained
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort which is new-onset and significant

Other possible symptoms of pancreatic cancer:

  • Pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen which is new, that tends to radiate to the back. This is significant and can be persistent but also intermittent, this pain or discomfort can vary between patients.
  • Back pain
  • Diabetes which is new-onset and not associated with weight gain
  • Vague indigestion (dyspepsia) or abdominal discomfort (not responding to prescribed medication)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain when eating
  • Steatorrhea (fatty stools that are often pale and smell foul)

Not everyone will have all of these symptoms.  For example, those who have a tumour in the body or tail of the pancreas are unlikely to have painless jaundice.  All of these symptoms can have other causes, and there is not yet a reliable and easy test for pancreatic cancer.

Explanation of the symptoms:

Pain or discomfort in the abdomen and upper back

Approximately 70 per cent of patients with pancreatic cancer go to the doctor initially due to pain.  This pain is often described as beginning in the stomach area and radiating around to the upper back (just above where a woman’s bra strap would be).

Generally the reason for the pain is because of the tumour pressing against your abdomen and spine.

Jaundice

30% of patients will have yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes, jaundice, when they first go to the doctors. This is related to the tumour blocking the bile duct which leads to a build-up of bile in the liver.

Jaundice may be more obvious in the whites of the eyes and bad jaundice can cause itching of the skin.

Depression

Many of our patients or relatives have said that they have experienced mood changes before being diagnosed.

Mild to severe depression can often present itself in the early stages of pancreatic cancer.  This is why if someone who has never suffered from a severe bout of depression before should express their concerns to their GP.  It can often highlight a medical problem in the very early stages.

Bowel changes

A tumour in the pancreas can cause bowel disturbances which means you do not absorb your food properly.  This will result in regular, large bowel movements of pale and smelly stool.   This can also cause weight loss.

Diabetes

Pancreatic cancer can cause diabetes. A pancreatic tumour can interfere with insulin production in the pancreas which can lead to new onset diabetes.

You may have diabetes if you have low energy, pass more urine than normal and feel extremely thirsty.

If you regularly experience ONE OR MORE of these symptoms which are NOT NORMAL FOR YOU, DO NOT IGNORE THEM, contact your GP straight away.

Are you worried about symptoms you may be having?

If so, downloading our symptoms diary may help you.

Keep a symptoms diary:

Keeping track of any symptoms you may be experiencing can be useful when discussing them with your GP.  Click here for the Pancreatic Cancer Action symptoms diary.

Use our Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms Diary

NHS 111 ServiceContact the NHS 111 Service for help and advice.


 Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms and Signs.For general health information including information on pancreatic cancer

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Information Product No. PCA0011v2 | Published: 19/10/2017 | Last Updated: 30/10/2017 | Next Review Due: 19/10/2020