Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer

Symptoms of pancreatic cancer, especially those of its more common forms (exocrine tumors) are usually somewhat vague. The most common symptoms demonstrated are pain in the stomach or back area, jaundice (a discoloration or yellowing of the skin), and weight loss. It is all too easy for these ailments to be misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, pancreatitis – even the flu. Complicating matters further is the fact that tumors in the pancreas often press on neighboring organs (stomach, liver, small intestine, spleen, gallbladder), causing pain that can be mistakenly attributed to the organ that is under pressure, rather than the pancreas itself.

Ascites: A condition in which excessive fluid builds up in the abdominal cavity causing swelling and distention of the belly. The abdominal cavity is created by the space between your organs and the abdominal wall and is surrounded by a lining called the peritoneum. Ascites may cause significant pain and difficulty breathing.

Abdominal & Back Pains: Both common symptoms that may occur separately or simultaneously; often caused by the tumor growing large enough to push against nearby organs and nerves. The pains may worsen after eating or lying down. 

Chills: Chills are usually caused by an obstruction of the bile ducts in the pancreas, and are a result of the digestive disruption pancreatic cancer patients experience.

Diabetes: The impaired insulin secretion of the pancreas can lead to late onset diabetes. Some treatments and surgeries will cure a patient of diabetes by removing the portion of the pancreas that contains the cancer; other surgeries, however, that remove significant portions of the pancreas (or all of it), will result in the patient becoming an instant diabetic.

Jaundice: The most common and visible symptom of pancreatic cancer, jaundice, arises from the pancreas’ bile duct becoming blocked by the tumor, which results in bile backing up into the liver, entering the bloodstream, and visible yellowing of the eyes and skin.

Loss of Appetite: The disruption of the digestive system often leads to a pronounced lack of appetite in pancreatic cancer patients, which can lead to nutrient loss and, subsequently, losses of energy and strength.

Nausea: The feelings of nausea a pancreatic cancer patient can experience goes hand in hand with loss of appetite and jaundice. The obstruction of the digestive tract by the tumor unsettles numerous facets of a person’s equilibrium, and often leaves them feeling like their stomach is wildly unsettled, even if they have not recently consumed a meal.

Stool & Urine Discoloration: Part of jaundice – the same accumulation of bile that turns a person’s skin yellow - also leaves their stool soft and gray and their urine overly dark.

Weakness: The loss of appetite, nutrients, and irritable digestion of a pancreatic cancer patient often combines to leave that patient feeling overly weak; they experience a similar sensation to the extreme fatigue of a particularly vicious strain of the flu.

Weight Loss: All cancers result in weight loss, as cancer cells compete with normal cells for nutrients. Cancer of the pancreas can result in more pronounced weight loss, however, as a result of the tumor’s interference with the body’s digestive system.

After surgery and treatment, patients can often experience pronounced fatigue, diarrhea, swelling, and some vomiting.

Please note: some symptoms that are not listed here may manifest due to the spread of cancer or as a result of chemotherapy or radiation therapy.