Pancreatic cancer is sometimes called a “silent” disease because symptoms are rarely noticeable in its early stages. If symptoms are present, they are often vague and can be easy to ignore.
The following is a list of seven common symptoms. While they can be caused by other medical conditions, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network recommends that anyone experiencing one or more of these symptoms speak with a doctor.
1) Your Back or Stomach Hurts
Pain in the abdomen or mid-back may be caused by a tumor. Depending on its location, the tumor may be pushing against nerves or organs near the pancreas or blocking the digestive tract.
2) You’re Bloated
Pancreatic cancer can cause digestive problems, which may cause gas and bloating. Pancreatic cancer can also cause ascites, the build-up of extra fluid in the abdomen. This causes the belly to swell and stretch out.
3) You’re Having Trouble Digesting Food
Loss of appetite, indigestion and nausea are common in people with pancreatic cancer. These symptoms often happen when the disease affects a person’s ability to digest food and absorb nutrients. They may also occur when a tumor blocks or slows the regular digestive processes.
4) You’re Losing Weight and You Don’t Know Why
Weight loss can be caused by incomplete digestion due to the cancer or by the cancer itself. Cancer-induced weight loss is a problem that affects the way the body uses calories and protein. It can cause the body to burn more calories than usual, break down muscle and decrease appetite.
5) Your Skin and Eyes Look Yellow
Jaundice is a yellowing of the skin and eyes caused by the buildup of bilirubin, a component of bile. This buildup can happen if the tumor blocks the bile flowing from the gallbladder into the small intestine.
People with jaundice may also have itchy skin, dark urine and light or clay-colored stools.
6) Your Stools Are Changing
Many pancreatic cancer patients have diarrhea, constipation or both. Diarrhea consisting of loose, watery, oily or foul-smelling stools can be caused by insufficient amounts of pancreatic enzymes in the intestines. Constipation is also a common problem. If the digestive system works too slowly, it can cause stools to become dry, hard and difficult to pass.
7) You Were Recently Diagnosed with Diabetes, or Your Well-controlled Diabetes Is Changing
Research suggests that a sudden onset of type 2 diabetes in people age 50 or older may be an early symptom of pancreatic cancer, especially in those who have a low body mass index, experience continuous weight loss or do not have a family history of diabetes.
A sudden change in blood sugar levels in diabetics who previously had well-controlled diabetes may also be a sign of pancreatic cancer. Learn more about diabetes and pancreatic cancer.
Review the infographic for a closer look at pancreatic cancer symptoms and risk factors.