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Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms To Look Out For

man holds side of stomach in pain scaled

Last updated on May 8th, 2021 at 09:35 AM

Many of us are aware of how check ourselves for breast and prostrate cancer, but when it comes to pancreatic cancer, do you know what to look out for?

The pancreas is a large gland that’s part of the digestive system; its job it is to create digestive juices and various hormones, including insulin. When cancer occurs in this vital organ, it’s caused by an abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells.

Pancreatic cancer tends to affect people in mid-life and old age, and it’s uncommon in people under the age of 40.

3D illustration of Pancreas - part of digestive system.
The pancreas (iStock/PA)

The tricky thing about this type of cancer is that symptoms are hard to spot in the early stages, so early diagnosis is often missed.  However, there are some subtle signs to be aware of.

The earlier a cancer is picked up too, the easier it is to treat and the more likely the treatment is to be successful.

“Worldwide there are around 338,000 new cases each year; in Europe that figure is more than 104,000. In the UK, approximately 10,000 people are newly diagnosed each year,” says Ali Stunt, CEO of Pancreatic Cancer Action.

As today marks World Pancreatic Cancer Day, we take a look at four of the most common noticeable symptoms to look out for.

1. Pain or discomfort in the tummy

Not everyone will experience the same symptoms of pancreatic cancer, but according to Stunt, abdominal pain or discomfort is “one of the first symptoms to often present itself.”

The pain might come and go at first and feel more intense when you’re lying down or after eating. You might also find it feels better when you’re leaning forward.

Abdominal pain can be caused by all kinds of health issues, like infection, appendicitis and IBS, so it’s important not to panic if you do experience it. It is a good idea, however, to get it checked out by a doctor.

2. Jaundice

Yellowish eyes is sign of problems with liver, viral infection or other disease
Jaundice can cause discolouration to the whites of the eyes (iStock/PA)

“The most obvious sign of jaundice is yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes, ” says Stunt. “It can also cause your urine to appear darker and your skin to itch.”

It’s caused by increased amounts of bilirubin in the blood, which can occur when if cancer in the head of the pancreas blocks the bile duct.

3. Unexplained weight loss

Female leg stepping on weigh scales. Healthy lifestyle, food and sport concept.
Look for changes to weight (iStock/PA)

“This is often one of the first problems patients tell their doctors about,” notes Stunt.

If you haven’t made changes to your diet or fitness routine, it’s also wise to get any unexplained weight loss checked out by a doctor.

Sudden, noticeable weight loss can happen after a stressful event, although it can also be a sign of a serious illness too.

4. Feeling sick

When the pancreas is inflamed and swollen, it can cause you to feel nauseous, and you may also find that you’re vomiting out of the blue.

“People with pancreatic cancer also sometimes experience constipation (when your stools are very firm) or diarrhoea (passing of watery stools more than three times a day),” says Stunt.

Other symptoms

If you have pancreatic cancer, you may also experience indigestion, loss of appetite, bloating, diarrhoea, fatigue, blood clots or deep vein thrombosis.

It’s good to bear in mind that these symptoms are common and the majority of people who will experience them will not have pancreatic cancer. There are lots of less serious health conditions that could be causing them.

However, if you’re experiencing any bodily changes that are not the norm for you, it is important to get them checked by your doctor.