Some cancers are easier to detect than others. Pancreatic cancer is a tough one, because the symptoms are vague and likely to be caused by other conditions, often related to the gastrointestinal system. By the time pancreatic cancer yields symptoms, the disease has typically spread through the pancreas or beyond, making it challenging to treat.
More than 95 percent of pancreatic cancers are caused by exocrine tumors, which start in the exocrine cells that produce enzymes required for digestion. If you have any of the following symptoms, talk with your doctor so you can determine the cause and seek proper treatment.
Jaundice is noted by the yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes. Excess bilirubin, a dark yellow-brown substance made in the liver, causes jaundice. The liver excretes bilirubin as part of a liquid called bile, which moves from the bile duct through the intestines and eventually exits the body in the stool. Bile cannot reach the intestines if the duct gets blocked, resulting in the buildup of bilirubin. Still, pancreatic cancer is not as likely to cause jaundice as other conditions such as gallstones, hepatitis and liver disease.
- Abdominal or back pain
Pain in the abdomen or back is typically associated with pancreatic cancer. Tumors that start in the pancreas may grow large enough to press against others organs and cause pain. Cancer can also spread to the nerves surrounding the pancreas, resulting in back pain. Of course, abdomen and back pain are very common and usually caused by something unrelated to cancer.
- Weight loss and poor appetite
It’s typical for anyone with pancreatic cancer to lose their appetite, which often leads to unintentional weight loss.
- Digestive problems
The body may have a difficult time digesting fatty foods. In turn, undigested fat can cause stools to become pale, bulky or greasy. Stools may also float. A tumor pressing against the end of the stomach can block the passage of food, resulting in nausea, vomiting or pain that occurs after eating.