The symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer may not appear until the disease is an advanced stage, making early detection difficult.
When they do appear, they can be vague and non-specific, such as stomach pain and weight loss. In addition, the symptoms will be different depending on where the cancer is within the pancreas.
The pancreas is a gland about 6 inches long that is shaped like a thin pear lying on its side. NHS Heroes Pharmacy UK The wider end of the pancreas is called the head, the middle section is called the body, and the narrow end is called the tail.
It lies behind the stomach, liver, spleen, gallbladder and the small intestine, so it cannot be felt during a physical exam.
Some visible symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer:
>>Yellowing of the skin and eyes: This is commonly seen in pancreatic cancer patients. It is called Jaundice, and is a painless condition that occurs with an increased level of bilirubin in the blood.
Bilirubin is an orange-yellow pigment formed in the liver by the breakdown of hemoglobin (which transports oxygen in your blood) and excreted in bile.
An accumulation of bilirubin can happen when a tumor completely or partially blocks bile ducts of the liver, slowing the flow of bile.
>>Abdominal Pain: This is s common symptom. It’s usually on the upper abdomen and may even radiate to the back. Abdominal pain may worsen when lying down or 3 to 4 hours after eating.
>>Unintended Weight Loss: While losing weight without trying may be welcomed by many, it can indicate something is wrong.
It is one of the first symptoms a person usually notices, along with abdominal pain. (Weight loss is common in many types of cancer and other benign conditions.)
>>Nausea/Vomiting is another vague pancreatic cancer symptom that is common among many other conditions, and it’s non-specific symptoms like these that often result in a delay of a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.
>>Loss of Appetite: Appetite loss is a symptom of hundreds of diseases and conditions, including pancreatic cancer. It can signal something severe or even be related to something as small as a stomach virus.
When symptoms are vague like this, medical tests are necessary to make a correct diagnosis.
>>Itchy Skin: This is a less common symptom experienced by people with pancreatic cancer. Again, it’s a vague symptom, but when coupled with another symptom like abdominal pain or jaundice, it can be significant in making a more accurate and timely diagnosis.
Unfortunately, when someone with undiagnosed pancreatic cancer is experiencing itchy skin, it is often incorrectly diagnosed as a dermatological condition.
>>Unexpected Onset of Diabetes: In some cases, pancreatic cancer may interfere with the pancreas’ ability to produce insulin, resulting in diabetes .
It is important to remember that most people develop diabetes because of reasons not related to pancreatic cancer.
>>Changes in Stool and Urine Color: Urine may become much darker, while stools lose their brown color, becoming a pale, clay color. This is often due to the bile duct being blocked. Stools can also have an odd, strong smell.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, see your doctor. Even if they are not related to pancreatic cancer in the end, they are symptoms that call for a medical evaluation.
Pancreatic Cancer is a rare disease, so the general population is not usually screened. However, some people with a family history of pancreatic cancer and certain genetic syndromes have an increased risk and may benefit from specialized screening.
New research is producing encouraging results for the treatment of this condition, and will be discussed in upcoming articles.
In the meantime, as always, please remember that early diagnosis is the key to managing any illness, and promises the best outcome.