Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms

Pancreatic cancer often goes undetected until it’s advanced and difficult to treat. In the vast majority of cases, symptoms only develop after pancreatic cancer has grown and begun to spread.

Because more than 95% of pancreatic cancer is the exocrine type, we’ll describe those symptoms first, followed by symptoms of rare forms of pancreatic cancer.

Initially, pancreatic cancer tends to be silent and painless as it grows. By the time it’s large enough to cause symptoms, pancreatic cancer has generally grown outside the pancreas. Because of the location of the pancreas in the body, symptoms include:

In general, symptoms appear earlier from cancers in the head of the pancreas, compared to those in the body and tail. Keep in mind that having any or all of these symptoms doesn’t mean a person has pancreatic cancer. There are many other causes for these types of symptoms.

As it grows and spreads, pancreatic cancer affects the whole body. Such symptoms can include:

Islet cell tumors, also called neuroendocrine tumors, arise from the cells in the pancreas that make hormones. Islet cell tumors account for less than 5% of all pancreas tumors.

Like pancreatic adenocarcinoma, islet cell tumors may cause abdominal pain, weight loss, nausea, and vomiting. Hormones released by an islet cell tumor can also cause symptoms: These include

 

In a very small number of people with pancreatic cancer, early symptoms might be present that could lead to an earlier diagnosis. Unfortunately, researchers have been unable to identify any predictable pattern.

The rarity and vagueness of these situations point out the difficulty of using early symptoms to catch pancreatic cancer.

That said, symptoms like unintentional weight loss, persistent loss of appetite, yellowing of the eyes or skin, dark urine, or light-colored stools should always prompt concern. Consistent or worsening discomfort, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea are also disconcerting. If you feel something’s not right, see your doctor.

SOURCES:

American Cancer Society: “Pancreatic Cancer.”

National Cancer Institute: “Pancreatic Cancer.”

American Society of Clinical Oncology: “Pancreatic Cancer.”

Gullo L. Pancreas, 2002; vol 22: pp 210-213.

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What you should know.

What’s the connection?

Additional options to know about.

Obesity, alcohol and inactivity raise your risks.

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