Signs and Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer

Signs and Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer


Pancreatic Cancer Signs and Symptoms

We should start by pointing out that there may be different reasons for exocrine pancreatic cancers and pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (often referred to as NETs). Therefore, they are often described separately from each other.

The occurrence of one of the symptoms that is described below doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a case of pancreatic cancer. In the majority of cases, it so happens that other conditions cause them. Anyway, in order to be 100% sure, you need to consult your doctor and discuss with him or her any slightest thing that you feel is wrong somehow. This way you’ll be able to see what your health condition really is and rectify the situation by undergoing necessary treatment your doctor is to recommend.

Signs and Symptoms that May Occur in Case of Exocrine Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic Cancer: Signs and Symptoms

If it’s only the beginning of a pancreatic cancer stage, there will be no symptoms at all. The crux of the matter is that the symptoms are obvious on the stage when such like diseases have already affected the areas outside the pancreas.

Jaundice and Related Symptoms

Jaundice is a disease when your whites of the eyes as well as your skin become yellowish or greenish. In the majority of cases, if a person faces a case of pancreatic cancer, the first symptom to occur will be exactly jaundice. Actually, people ill with ampullary cancer are also quite likely to have it.

The reason for jaundice is bilirubin that is accumulated in the organism. It’s a dark-yellow substance that is produced in your liver. The bilirubin is excreted by your liver and it is contained in the liquid we know as bile. If your organism is functioning the way it should, the bile gets into the intestines passing on its way the common bile duct. The bile helps a lot since it helps to break down fats in your intestines. Then, it goes out of your organism with the stool. If something goes wrong and there is something in the bile duct that prevents bile from getting into the intestines, bilirubin starts to accumulate in your organism.

When cancers occur in the head of the pancreas, they are located quite close to the common bile duct. Such like cancers press on the duct and, consequently, jaundice occurs even though the disease is not that much developed. This is, actually, good news for you since in this case the tumor can be detected in the very beginning of the disease’s course. As for cancers that begin in the body or tail of the pancreas, they are not that easily detected. The key point here is that the tumors don’t press on the duct at an early stage of the cancers’ development. The pressure becomes obvious once the cancers have invaded not only the whole of the pancreas, but the area outside it as well.

By the way, pancreatic cancer very often attacks cancer that may also serve as a reason for jaundice.

Your urine being dark is very often the first symptom of having jaundice. This is quite easy to explain – the level of bilirubin that is contained in your blood goes higher and, therefore, your urine becomes brown.

Your stools being of light or greasy colour. The symptom means that something is preventing the bilirubin from getting into the intestines. This is exactly due to bilirubin that your stools are brown. When it can’t pass through the bile duct, your stools are pale or even grey. Pay attention to the fact that in case bile and pancreatic enzymes don’t manage to get to the intestines and serve the function of breaking down the fats, your stools may become greasy or they may float in thee toilet.

Your skin starts to itch. While bilirubin is being accumulated in your skin it may not only start itching, but become yellow as well.

We should also mention that pancreatic cancer is not always the reason for you having jaundice. Most often, it’s caused by other various diseases apart from it. Such like diseases include gallstones, hepatitis and other diseases that attack bile duct and liver.

Pain in the Belly or Back

Such symptom as painful sensations in your back or abdomen are quite usual if you have pancreatic cancer. If a cancer begins in the body or tail of the pancreas, it can have an influence on a number of other closely located organs due to the big size of the tumors. Consequently, you start experiencing quite unpleasant sensations. Keep in mind that the cancer may also attack your nerves that surround the pancreas. As a result, a pain in the back will occur. Still, you should also consider the fact that painful sensations in the back or abdomen occur rather often and, which is more important, due to various reasons apart from cancer.

Loss of Appetite and Unintentional Loss of Weight

These two symptoms are often noticed in patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. There may be either very little desire to eat or no desire to take food at all.

Nausea and Vomiting

Constant pressure on the far end of the stomach leads to the situation when it becomes partly blocked. This way the process of food getting through it is quite difficult. As a result, there may be nausea, vomiting and even pain that gets worse after you’ve eaten.

Your Gallbladder and Liver Becoming Enlarged

If your bile duct becomes blocked, bile can as well accumulate in the gallbladder thus enlarging it. In some cases, your doctor detects such a problem while examining you. There is like quite a large lump under the right ribcage. If you are recommended to undergo some imaging tests, it will also be quite obvious.

There are also cases when pancreatic cancer is a reason for your liver becoming larger. This is especially true if the cancer has already invaded your liver. This problem can either be detected by your doctor or once he or she studies the results of your imaging tests.

Blood Clots

There are cases, very rare though, when a blood clot detected in a large vein can be a enough of a proof that a person has pancreatic cancer. The clot often occurs in a leg. Doctors have a particular term for such like situation – DVT that reads deep vein thrombosis. If you face DVT, there may also be pain, swelling, redness and warmth in the leg where the clot was detected. There may even be a piece of a clot that breaks off and goes all the way to the lungs thus making it harder for you to breathe in and out. Mind that you may also feel unpleasant sensations in your chest. Such like situation is called PE or pulmonary embolism.

At the same time don’t forget that there are lots of other reasons for blood clots and, even if your doctor has found one in your organism, it doesn’t necessarily imply you having cancer.

Fatty Tissues Being Abnormal

From time to time, people who have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer have uneven texture of the fatty tissue that’s underneath the skin. The release of the pancreatic enzymes that are meant to digest fat leads to it.

Having Diabetes

Even though it’s not common, it’s still a fact – pancreatic cancer may lead to you having diabetes. The level of sugar in blood goes higher since cancer is really detrimental to the insulin-making cells. Related to the disease symptoms involve thirst, hunger and having to constantly urinate. In the majority of cases, cancer results only in small changes of your blood sugar level that don’t lead to diabetes. However, your doctor can still say if there is any change going in your blood based on the results of the blood tests you are to make.

Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumors and their Symptoms

Symptoms and Signs of Pancreatic Cancer

As a result of having NETs, there are too many hormones being released into your blood. Very often it comes down to a certain kind of tumor and a certain kind of hormone as each tumor is responsible for producing a particular hormone and, therefore, for the occurrence of certain symptoms that also vary.


Such like tumors produce gastrin – a hormone that enables your stomach to produce more acid. In case there is a Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, a situation when too much gastrin and, therefore, too much acid is being produced, there may occur stomach ulcers that manifest themselves by pain, nauseas and loss of appetite. If the case is a severe one, there may even be bleeding. Bleeding is either severe or mild. In the first case, you may have anemia (a lack of red blood cells) accompanied by fatigue and a constant desire to catch your breath. In the second case, that may lead to lethal consequences if no treatment is provided, your stool may become black and tarry.

If acid produced by the stomach manages to get to the small intestine, the cells that cover it may be subject to a severe harm. consequently, the digestive enzymes may be destroyed thus preventing them from serving their function which is to digest food. As a result, you may lose weight or have diarrhea.


These tumors are responsible for the production of glucagon – a hormone that increases the level of sugar in your blood. In the majority of cases, the symptoms caused by it are not that much severe and very often they turn out to have nothing to do with glucagonoma.

If there is an excessive amount of glucagon, the level of sugar in blood may increase and result in diabetes, the common symptoms of which are thirst, hunger, and a quite often need to urinate.

Patients who have such like tumors often face with diarrhea, loss of weight and the situation when they do not eat enough. Nutrition disorder symptoms are as follows: irritation of the tongue and the corners of the mouth being irritated as well.

However, very often it’s about a different symptom that makes people with glucagonomas consult experts – a rash. Doctors usually call it necrolytic migratory erythema. It’s a red rash that’s accompanied by swelling and blisters and has a tendency to change its location on the skin.


Insulinomas produce insulin that, on the contrary, is responsible for lowering the level of sugar in blood down. Hypoglycemia or blood sugar level being too low occurs when there is too much insulin. It’s accompanied by such symptoms like feeling weak and unfocused, there is also increased sweating and heart beating rather fast. If your blood sugar gets to be dangerously low, you may pass out or have seizures. There may even be a worse scenario – falling into a coma.


The main point here is somatostatin which keeps all other hormones balanced. The symptoms related are pain in the abdomen, nausea, poor appetite and loss of weight and diarrhea. There may be some symptoms of diabetes (thirst, hunger and a frequent need to urinate) or jaundice (skin and the whites of the eyes becoming yellow) involved.

At the very beginning, the symptoms that occur as a result of somatostatinoma are quite mild which is the reason for such like tumors to be diagnosed at the advanced stage. It’s quite often when they are not found up until they have already attacked liver and problems like jaundice and pain occur. However, always keep it in your mind that at the very beginning the symptoms may occur because of a very different reason.


As a result of such like tumors, a particular substance that’s called vasoactive intestinal peptide is produced. Even though there may be a mild start, diarrhea that is caused by them gets considerably worse as time goes by.

There are other symptoms as well: nausea, vomiting, muscle cramps, weakness, being flushed (a feeling of warmth and redness on your face and neck). Patients who have such like tumors are prone to having low acid levels in the stomachs which is followed by digestive disorders.


Here we are talking about the production of pancreatic polypeptide that keeps under control exocrine and endocrine pancreas. There may be painful sensations in the abdomen, liver being enlarged or even watery diarrhea caused by the tumors.

Carcinoid Tumors

Tumors that are implied here make serotonin or 5-HTP, its progenitor. The starting point for pancreatic tumor is your liver where it begins to produce the substances. Later on, the substances are eliminated thanks to the liver even before they manage to do a great harm to your organism. That’s the reason why there are absolutely no symptoms of carcinoid tumors up until they reach the areas outside the pancreas.

The most common area for them to be aimed at is your liver. Once the cancer cells get inside it, they release hormones right into the blood that leaves liver. Consequently, carcinoid syndrome with symptoms like being flushed, diarrhea, wheezing and heart beating fast occurs. Note that the symptoms may occur from time to time and in between the periods you’re quite likely to feel absolutely fine.

If your heart valves have been under the influence of these symptoms for a long time, you may start heaving problems with breath (there is like a constant desire to catch your breath), feeling weak and your heart sound may be abnormal.

Non-functioning Neuroendocrine Tumors

Since these tumors don’t produce any excess hormones, it’s quite difficult to detect them on an early stage. They may develop a lot before they are detected. In the majority of cases, cancers related to this group become more obvious as the tumors grow, invade other areas apart from the pancreas, and, eventually, there are symptoms that really worry you. The list of the symptoms may include the ones from exocrine pancreas, involving jaundice, belly pain and loss of weight in particular.

Symptoms Caused by the Cancer Spreading

When dealing with pancreatic NETs, it’s important to remember that your liver will be their most important goal. Your liver may become enlarged that, in turn, is a reason for painful sensations and loss of appetite. They also have a truly bad effect on the way your liver functions that results in jaundice and your lab tests showing that something in your organism is going wrong.

We should also underline the fact that such like cancers may spread to other tissues and organs as well. As for the symptoms, it all comes down to the area where a tumor is growing and developing. If cancer has managed to get to the lungs, you may be short of breath or coughing. If it has attacked your bones, there may be painful sensations in them.

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