Pancreatic cancer is the fourth deadliest cancer among women and men. Since this cancer is hard to detect and treat, the survival rate of the disease is very low, hovering between 7 – 25%
Your pancreas is part of the digestive system and is buried within the abdominal cavity. It sits behind the stomach and in the upper part of your abdomen. Because of its location, it can be hard to feel tumors before they’ve grown large enough to interfere with normal bodily functions. Additionally, there is no screening test for this cancer type.
Looking for clues to pancreatic cancer is vital to early detection and treatment. Though some of the signs and symptoms of this cancer can resemble other health conditions like diabetes, cirrhosis, or liver disease, it’s important to have things checked out if you notice any abnormalities.
Scroll through the list below for some of its warning signs.
Sudden Onset Diabetes
Pancreatic cancer can interfere with insulin production and blood sugar levels, thus causing a new onset of diabetes. This is commonly seen in patients over age 50. Also if you extra thirsty or hungry, it could be a sign of diabetes.
A cancerous tumor may block the bile duct, causing a backup of bile (and bilirubin) in the system. Jaundice – yellowing of the eyes and skin – is caused by that backed up bile leaking into the bloodstream.
Loss of Weight and Appetite
This symptom is common to most cancers and can run dangerously close to becoming anorexia, especially in advanced stages of the disease. Tumors on the pancreas may inhibit digestive processes, but cancerous cells may also be stealing nutrients from the rest of the body, causing a decrease in weight or appetite.
Pale, Floating Stools
As with jaundice, a blockage in the bile duct caused by a tumor will prevent bilirubin from reaching the digestive tract. Bilirubin is a yellowish-brown substance contained in bile and it’s what gives stools their color. When it’s absent from the digestive tract, stools may be gray or whitish, and float because of undigested fats.
Itchiness is connected to a blocked bile duct as well. When bile salts and bile buildup in your body, they can gather in the skin, causing itching sensations.
Abdominal PainNikodash via DepositPhotos
The majority of pancreatic cancer patients experience some form of abdominal pain, typically felt in the upper abdomen. It may disappear when you lean forward, or be worse after you eat or lie down.
For some people, blood clots may be the earliest sign of pancreatic cancer. If you notice painful swelling, redness, or warmth in the leg, it could be due to a blood clot.
Back pain may or may not accompany abdominal pain with this cancer. Though back pain is a general symptom, you may notice pain the middle of the back as a result of the cancer pressing on the nerves or organs.
Dark urine is the result of bilirubin being prevalent in the bloodstream. Look out for urine that is brown in color.
Those who have an increased risk for pancreatic cancer include:
- Cigarette smokers
- Adults over age 50
- Genetic predisposition – individuals with BRCA gene mutations
- Obese individuals
The list above is by no means exhaustive and each person will present differently. As always, visit your physician for advice if something seems off with your body.
Do you know anyone who has had pancreatic cancer? Are you already familiar with the signs of this disease?
- Johns Hopkins Medicine
- American Cancer Society
- Columbia University Medical Center