Woman experiencing stomach pain, a pancreatic cancer symptom

Editor’s note: During Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, we are highlighting symptoms of the disease and the importance of being proactive about them. Here are steps you can take if you are experiencing any of the symptoms and suspect pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer symptoms are often vague. They include digestive problems, changes in stool, weight loss, yellowing of the skin and eyes, recent-onset diabetes and abdominal or back pain.

For those who have additional risk factors, it’s particularly essential that you are aware of and proactive about the symptoms.

Research has shown that patients whose pancreatic cancer is diagnosed in its early stages have better outcomes due to access to more treatment options, including surgery.

So, if you are experiencing signs of the disease, it’s extremely important to speak to a healthcare professional and reference pancreatic cancer.

Advocating for yourself is beneficial for your overall healthcare journey. Don’t be passive – speak up!

Here are three steps to help you navigate the process of advocating for yourself.

1. Schedule an appointment with a gastroenterologist who is experienced in diagnosing pancreatic cancer.

Contact PanCAN Patient Services for a list of pancreatic cancer-specialized gastroenterologists in your area.

You may need a referral from your primary care doctor. If you are having insurance barriers or issues getting a referral, PanCAN Patient Services may also be able to provide you with helpful resources.

2. Prepare for your appointment.

Document the symptoms you are experiencing, as well as specific details to help your doctor understand more about your situation.

Some good details to note are:

  • When each symptom started and how long it lasted
  • Pain:
    • Location
    • Description (sharp, dull, spread out, localized, etc.)
    • Severity on a scale of 0-10 (0 being no pain, 10 being the worst imaginable pain)
  • Changes in stool:
    • Type (diarrhea, constipation)
    • How long they persist
  • Nausea:
    • How often
    • When it arises
  • Weight changes
  • Foods you are eating, to determine if symptoms may be related to any digestive issues
  • Any other symptoms you are experiencing, even if they are not commonly associated with pancreatic cancer

Along with keeping track of symptoms, prepare questions to ask the doctor regarding risk factors, diagnostics and imaging tests. These can include:

  • What do you think may be causing my symptom(s)?
  • What is my pancreatic cancer risk?
  • What tests and scans are used to confirm a pancreatic cancer diagnosis, and which may be appropriate for me?
  • Will you perform any endoscopic or other invasive tests?
  • How many of these tests do you do each year?
  • If any tests or scans are performed, what do the results mean?

If you still have questions after meeting with a gastroenterologist, contact PanCAN Patient Services.

3. If necessary, advocate for yourself and get a second opinion.

You have a right to seek a second opinion, and many patients do so to confirm or rule out a pancreatic cancer diagnosis.

When consulting with any doctor, you can ask yourself the following questions to that you are comfortable with your doctor ensure your concerns have been addressed:

  • Does the doctor seem interested in my questions?
  • Is the doctor easy to communicate with?
  • Did I get enough time with the doctor to answer all my questions?
  • Do I feel that the doctor cares about my medical outcome?

You should feel comfortable and supported by your healthcare team. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network strongly recommends seeking a healthcare team that suits all of your physical, mental and emotional needs.

Self-advocacy should be a part of your regular healthcare routine. Be proactive, be curious and take an active role in your own care.

Clear and open communication with your healthcare team is crucial to receiving good healthcare.

Contact a PanCAN Patient Services Case Manager
For more information about pancreatic cancer symptoms, risk factors or diagnosis, contact Patient Services.