As pancreatic cancer develops in the body, it may cause a few different symptoms. The symptoms and severity can vary for each person and below we talk about what the disease is and how it may present itself as symptoms.
What is the pancreas?
The pancreas is a pear-shaped organ deep in the body behind your stomach and in front of your spine. Its role in the body is to produce hormones to control your blood sugar levels and to enzymes which help to breakdown and digest your food.
What is pancreatic cancer?
Pancreatic cancer occurs when a malignant tumour forms in the pancreas. In the UK approximately 10,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer every year. The survival rate for pancreatic cancer is poor, less than 7% or 7 in 100 people survive to 5 years after their diagnosis.
Therefore, knowing the signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer is key. The earlier the diagnosis, the better the outcome.
What are the symptoms of pancreatic cancer?
Early stages of pancreatic cancer can show no symptoms at all. However, a new diagnosis of type 2 diabetes, especially if it is not associated with being overweight can be an early sign. In fact, research has found that those who are diagnosed as diabetic have a 50% greater chance of getting pancreatic cancer within four years than those who have been diagnosed for longer.
The best way to find pancreatic cancer early is to be aware of the signs and symptoms. Currently the only cure is surgery, so getting a diagnosis in time for this is vital. Many of the symptoms of pancreatic cancer can also be attributed to other, more common, and treatable illnesses. However, if you have any of the symptoms of pancreatic cancer that are persistent and not normal for you, you should speak to your GP as soon as possible.
Symptoms of pancreatic cancer include
- Jaundice- Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes. Sometimes the skin becomes very itchy.
- Unexplained weight loss (losing weight without meaning to)
- Upper abdominal pain (pain at the top of the tummy)
- Mid back pain, sometimes pain in the shoulder
- Indigestion (that doesn’t go away with treatment)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pale and smelly stools
How long does it take symptoms to show?
Many researchers have found that the development of pancreatic cancer from first to advanced stages can be quite slow giving time for diagnosis and to act. There is no set time when symptoms first appear, but the cancer can progress quickly once it is in the later stages, so it is important to be aware of the symptoms and act on them fast.
We understand that for anyone who shows symptoms of pancreatic cancer and is worried, it can be a very stressful time. The important thing is not to panic and to explain your concerns to your GP. The Pancreatic Cancer Action website has more information on symptoms and what pancreatic cancer is.