Pancreatic cancer does not show symptoms in the early stages and by the time symptoms are noted, the cancer has spread beyond the pancreas. The symptoms of exocrine pancreatic cancers are explained in this article and pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours(PNETs) are discussed separately, read about PNET here
Stomachache or back pain:
The cancers that start in the body or the tail of the pancreas grow large and press the other organs surrounding it. The cancer spreading to the nerves around the pancreas often causes back pain.
Pancreatic cancer lowers the patient’s appetite causing unexplained and unintended weight loss. Some cancers also produce hormones that make it harder for the body to absorb nutrients from the food.
Nausea and vomiting:
Pressing of the stomach can make it difficult for food to get through making the patient feel nauseous, especially after food intake. It can also cause vomiting along with pain in the abdomen area.
Enlargement of liver or gallbladder:
Pancreatic cancer can cause enlargement of the liver especially if the cancer has spread to the organ. If the cancer blocks the bile duct, it builds up in the gallbladder making it swollen.
This can be felt below the right rib cage and can also be confirmed by imaging tests.
A blood clot in a large vein (called deep vein thrombosis or DVT if in the leg) is one of the first signs of pancreatic cancer, and redness, swelling and pain in the leg may be noted in case of DVT. Sometimes a blood clot from elsewhere can travel to the lungs making it harder for a person to breathe and cause chest pain. Clotting of blood in the lungs itself may happen and this is called pulmonary embolism (or PE).
If the pancreatic cancer leads to destroying of insulin making cells, it can lead to high levels of blood sugar (diabetes). The person can feel hungry or thirsty and have to urinate often though small changes in the blood sugar levels may not cause those symptoms, the change can be detected through blood tests.
Pancreas plays an important role in the digestion by secreting enzymes that help breaking down of the food. One might feel full even after taking in small quantities, feeling bloated, painful sensation in the chest, etc.
Jaundice can be seen in the early stages of pancreatic cancer, especially in case of cancers that start in the head of the pancreas. This is because the head of the pancreas is located near the common bile duct and cancers in this part can cause the duct to get blocked. This leads to building up of bile, a dark yellow brown substance made by the liver to help break down fats and it is excreted by the body in the form of stool. The buildup of bile, or bilirubin in specific, causes jaundice.
Cancers that start in other parts of the pancreas may also cause jaundice but the pressing of the bile duct does not happen, and instead, it may be caused when the cancer spreads to the liver.
Dark urine, pale or greasy stools and itchy skin are the common symptoms of jaundice.
Responsive action for the above symptoms:
While most of the common symptoms of pancreatic cancers can be explained by other less critical conditions, one should keep note of their symptoms and do to a doctor if the symptoms persist or are not being solved by the common medication for the symptoms.