Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate of all types of cancers. That’s primarily because it is rarely discovered and diagnosed early enough when it is most treatable. Pancreatic symptoms are very vague, non-specific, and very similar to more common and less serious conditions. Early symptoms can sometimes be non-existent. They can also be so subtle they don’t arouse seriousness. Early detection is very difficult. By the time symptoms progress and become more defined, pancreatic cancer has spread beyond the pancreas to advance stages. See Pancreatic Cancer Treatment and Outcomes.

Become Your Own Best Advocate

Not only are symptoms vague in early stages, pains can be “referred pain” that can source from entirely different, disassociated body regions. However, always discuss suspected symptoms with your physician. Although symptoms are most often of minor concern, always be diligent and observant.  It is particularly important if you or a loved-one has multiple indicative symptoms. And is further crucial if genetic, race, gender, heritage, and controllable risk factors exist. Read more about Pancreatic Cancer Risk Factors.

At the present time, there are no proven methods of early detection that gives a patient a better chance of survival. But there are methods that explore the possibility that a cancerous tumor exists including ultrasound images, CT Scans, and MRI scans. Missed diagnosis does occur, so it is wise to get a second opinion when symptoms persist and begin to worsen. Being knowledgeable, diligent and observant can enhance the chances of early detection when cancer is most treatable.

Pancreas Cancer Symptoms and Signs

Pancreatic cancer grows eerily silent and slowly. Studies show that it takes about 10 years for the first mutated cancer cell to develop and about 7 to 10 years to form a tumor before it reaches a metastasis stage and spreads to other organs. In early stages, symptoms are minor if they exist at all. By the time symptoms are relatively obvious, malignant pancreas tumors have enlarged or have metastasized. The severity of symptoms are dependent upon the reached stage as well as the type of pancreas cancer which is essentially defined by the location within the pancreas. Read about the dual role of the pancreas.

Jaundice. Jaundice is yellowing of the skin and eyes which can be caused by blocked bile ducts from a malignant pancreatic tumor. Jaundicing could be caused by hepatitis which is a major pancreas cancer risk factor or by a less serious gallstone which could prevent bile fluids from getting to the intestines. Pain in the Upper Abdomen and Back. Pain in the upper abdomen that may radiate to the back could be a symptom. Pain would occur when a tumor places pressure on organs and/or nerves in the area. The pain could either be constant or intermittent and intensified after eating. It is important to note these symptoms could be caused by many things and could also be symptomatic of a heat ailment.

Digestive problems and unexplained weight loss. Losing weight or lack of appetite without an explained reason could be a symptom. When digestive enzymes are not produced by the pancreas, digestion does not extract nutrients from food. Foods with high-fat content may be difficult to digest. Lack of enzyme production can also cause pains in the mid abdomen area.

Nausea or vomiting. When a tumor blocks the upper part of the small intestine (duodenum), nausea and vomiting, particularly after eating can be a symptom of pancreatic cancer.

Fatigue and lack of energy. Persistent fatigue can be attributed to many ailments and certain prescription medications. But it is a common symptom of pancreatic cancer. It can occur at early or late stages of the disease and can be caused by both malignant and non-malignant tumors.

Pale Stool and diarrhea. Many things can change stool color including medication and diet. Stools that are consistently clay-colored, caused by blockage of bile ducts can be a symptom as is diarrhea. Stool can often have a greasy look. Pancreatic cancer will reduce the ability of the pancreas to secrete fat-digesting enzymes. This will cause stool to float more than it normally would.

Itching. Some people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer report experiencing body itching which may be caused by blockage of bile ducts.

Diabetes. Having diabetes can be either a symptom of pancreatic cancer or the result of the cancerous tumor. Therefore, it could cause cancer of the pancreas or surgical removal of part or all of the pancreas will result in diabetes.

Chronic pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas. Chronic pancreatitis, which is often recurring, can be a serous symptom of pancreatic cancer. It is usually caused by excessive use of alcohol or is hereditary. The acute form of pancreatitis is generally caused by gallstones and is not generally linked to cancer of the pancreas.