Pancreatic cancer symptoms
The pancreas is an organ located behind the stomach. It releases enzymes that help with digestion, as well as hormones that help regulate blood sugar levels.
If you have pancreatic cancer, you won’t be able to feel a lump or mass when you press on the outside of your abdomen. You may not have any symptoms until the cancer has already spread. Unlike breast, colon, and prostate cancers, pancreatic cancer isn’t routinely found with screening tests. People aren’t generally tested because no screening test for pancreatic cancer has been proven to save lives.
Pancreatic cancer is sometimes called a silent disease because it’s hard to spot early, the stage when it’s most treatable. Besides knowing the symptoms, knowing the risk factors for pancreatic cancer is your best protection against this disease. For example, your chances of developing pancreatic cancer are significantly higher if:
- you have a family history of the cancer
- you’re a smoker
- you’re obese
- you’re exposed to certain pesticides and chemicals on a regular basis
Pancreatic cancer typically spreads rapidly to nearby organs. It is seldom detected in its early stages. But for people with pancreatic cysts or a family history of pancreatic cancer, some screening steps might help detect a problem early. One sign of pancreatic cancer is diabetes, especially when it occurs with weight loss, jaundice or pain in the upper abdomen that spreads to the back. Treatment may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or a combination of these. Some major symptoms are:
Jaundice occurs in about 50% of pancreatic cancer cases. Your eyes and skin may turn yellow, and you may feel itchy. You may also feel sick, lose your appetite and lose weight, and feel tired and thirsty. Jaundice can be a symptom of pancreatic cancer at an earlier stage. Jaundice is caused by the buildup of bilirubin, a component of bile produced by the liver. This can occur when a tumor blocks the bile duct connecting the pancreas to the liver.
If you develop jaundice, your doctor or nurse will assess whether you need a biliary stent or drain. A biliary stent is a small tube that is inserted into the bile duct to relieve the blockage. A biliary drain is a small tube that is inserted through your skin into the bile duct, and drains the bile into a bag.
The doctor or nurse will also treat any symptoms of jaundice. For example, they may give you medication to control any sickness or itching. While jaundice can be a symptom at any stage of pancreatic cancer, when pancreatic cancer is diagnosed early, patients may be eligible for surgery, which offers the best chance for long-term control of the disease. This is why it’s important to know the symptoms and listen to your body.