Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms can occur before or after pancreatic cancer is diagnosed. Pancreatic cancer affects the tissues in the pancreas, the organ that releases enzymes to help digestion, and produces hormones that control the sugar in your blood.
Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms can be noticed with nausea, loss of appetite, weight loss, slow developing jaundice, obstruction and pain in the stomach outlet. The most common type of pancreatic cancer, pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), develops in the ducts that carry digestive enzymes from the pancreas to the body. Pancreatic cancer is usually diagnosed after it has progressed because symptoms do not often occur until the cancer is in the advanced stages.
What are the Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms?
Symptoms of pancreatic cancer don’t usually begin until the pancreatic cancer has grown and most likely spread outside of the pancreas, either to lymph nodes or other organs.
Some general symptoms include:
- Jaundice or yellowing of the skin and eyes, which is due to the cancer blocking common bile ducts that release bile into the intestine. This leads to a buildup of bile in the blood that creates yellowing of the skin and eyes.
- Abdominal pain that is caused by the pancreatic cancer located in the abdominal area.
- Back pain that is caused by the location of the pancreas in the abdomen, which then radiates to the back.
- Bloating can occur creating a false sense of fullness and uncomfortable swelling in the abdomen.
- Nausea and vomiting
As the cancer spreads outside of the pancreas, it begins to affect the whole body and develop new symptoms, such as:
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- General malaise
- Increased levels of blood sugars, which can sometimes lead to the development of diabetes
Neuroendocrine tumors, also known as islet cell tumors, develop from the cells in the pancreas that make hormones. These islet cells make up less than 5% of all pancreas tumors, so it is considered a rare sub-type of pancreatic cancer. The different symptoms for this type of cancer include:
- Insulinomas or an excess of insulin, which can cause sweating, anxiety, lightheadedness, and feeling faint
- Glucagonomas or an excess of glucagon, which can cause diarrhea, extreme thirst or urination, and weight loss
- Gastrinomas or an excess of gastrin, which can cause abdominal pain, ulcers in the stomach, reflux, and weight loss
- Somatostatinomas or an excess of somatostatin, which can cause diarrhea, weight loss, abdominal pain, and foul-smelling stools
- VIPomas or an excess of vasoactive intestinal peptide, which can cause watery diarrhea, cramping of the abdominal region, and flushing of the face.
What are the Risk Factors and Preventions for Pancreatic Cancer?
Some factors that may contribute to increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer include:
- Pancreatitis, which is a chronic inflammation of the pancreas
- Family history of genetic syndromes
- Family history of pancreatic cancer
- Older age
Some preventions that can be taken in order to decrease the risk and potential of developing pancreatic cancer are quitting smoking if you’re a smoker, maintaining a healthy weight, and eating a healthy, balanced diet.
If you have a family history of pancreatic cancer or consider yourself to be high risk, it may be beneficial to receive genetic testing that can help to determine your risk level and help detect any pancreatic cancer in its early stages.