10 Early Warning Signs of Pancreatic Cancer

pancreatic-cancer

The average general health article on pancreatic cancer states flatly that this type of cancer shows no early symptoms. Most people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are already in the advanced stage of the disease by the time it's caught, and the typical prognosis is death within five years. Only 4 percent of pancreatic cancer patients live beyond five years.

In recent years, pancreatic cancer has claimed the lives of numerous celebrities and public figures, including Steve Jobs, actor Patrick Swayze, and actress Bonnie Franklin, leading many people to ask the key question, "Are there any early warning signs of pancreatic cancer?"

The answer is yes, there are. But to understand these signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer, it's important to understand where the pancreas is, and what it does.

Located deep inside the abdomen, the pancreas is only 4 to 6 inches long and shaped like a tadpole. In the "tail" of the pancreas are cells that produce insulin, and tumors at this end are usually endocrine tumors. They're easier to diagnose, but are much rarer. At the other end, the "head" of the pancreas, are cells that produce digestive enzymes, and tumors at this end are called exocrine tumors. These are by far the most common, and are much more difficult to detect.

However, the idea that a pancreatic tumor is asymptomatic is a bit of a myth. Dig deep into journal articles and ask patients what they remember and the result is a long list of odd signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer to watch out for.

Taken one by one, these symptoms could mean many things. But if you find yourself experiencing two or three of these early warning signs of pancreatic cancer, call your doctor and ask for a scan. Imaging techniques such as MRIs can detect pancreatic cancer some of the time, depending on the location of the tumor.

Early Warning Signs of Pancreatic Cancer

  • Diabetes, especially if it comes on suddenly. Recently, the Mayo Clinic published startling research showing that 40 percent of pancreatic cancer patients had been diagnosed with diabetes one to two years before discovering they had a pancreatic tumor. Researchers believe the diabetes is caused by tumors that simply haven't been detected yet. The problem is, diabetes is very common, and the majority of diabetes isn't pancreatic cancer, so doctors are trying to develop screening tools to tell the difference. Right now, they say family history is an important clue. If you're diagnosed with diabetes that seems to come on suddenly and you have no family history of diabetes, bring this to your doctor's attention and ask for further screening for pancreatic cancer.

  • Yellowing of the eyes or skin. Even a small pancreatic tumor can block the bile duct in the head of the pancreas, causing bile to build up. This causes jaundice.

  • Itchy skin, palms, and soles of feet. A little-known side-effect of jaundice is itchy hands and feet. It's due to a skin reaction to the bilirubin, the yellowish brown liver chemical that causes jaundice.

  • Lack of appetite. An Italian study found that six to eight months before being diagnosed with pancreatic tumors, patients reported a sudden drop in their appetite and a tendency to feel full after eating very little.

  • Changes in taste. In the same Italian study, some of the patients surveyed said they'd suddenly lost their taste for coffee, wine, and smoking. In fact, they said, they felt "disgust" for the smell and taste of coffee and alcohol.

  • Abdominal pain. Pancreatic cancer sufferers remember this pain as a gnawing pain, rather than a sharp cramp or ache, and it radiates toward the back. A characteristic clue: the pain goes away when you lean forward.

  • An enlarged gall bladder. The same blockage of the bile duct that causes jaundice can also cause an enlarged gallbladder, as the bile builds up behind the duct. The good news is that an enlarged gallbladder can be seen on imaging tests, and it may even be possible for a doctor to feel it during a physical exam.

  • Pale, floating, smelly stools. If a pancreatic tumor prevents digestive enzymes from reaching the intestine, the result is an inability to digest fatty foods. So you end up with loose, smelly "floaters" as a result of the excess fat. Doctors say this symptom, in particular, can be an early clue and is too often overlooked.

  • Dark, tarry stools. Bleeding in the upper intestines causes this symptom.

  • Sudden, unexplained weight loss. Weight loss is not always, as many people mistakenly believe, a sign of advanced cancer that's spread to the liver. It can also happen because a lack of pancreatic enzymes is causing fat to pass through the body undigested.

What do you do if you're worried about any of these symptoms?

Document all symptoms, and report them to your doctor in as much detail as possible. If your doctor is convinced you have legitimate concerns (and remember, you may have to do some convincing), tests such as an ultrasound, a CT scan, and an endoscopy followed by a biopsy can be used to search for a pancreatic tumor. A blood test is now available for a biomarker called CA 19-9 that is released by pancreatic cancer cells. Unfortunately, by the time CA 19-9 reaches detectable levels, the cancer is usually no longer in the early stage, although the test is useful during treatment and for detecting recurrence. Another biomarker test, CEA (carcinoembryonic antigen), is also not sensitive enough to provide early diagnosis.

While tragic early deaths like Steve Jobs' are the hard reality of pancreatic cancer, there are also people living productive lives thanks to an early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Such was the case with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who's still practicing after having a tiny pancreatic tumor surgically removed. Yes, she got "lucky," as she put it -- but she also got a CT scan, which is how the tumor was found.

28 days ago, said...

My husband was diagnosed with new onset Diabetes September 2015, following a period of losing weight and muscle (he had been dieting to get rid of his tummy but was not overweight - never has been) I thought he was losing too much and set up a doc appointment. It was so bad (not in family) he had to go directly on metaform and insulin. Then in January the doc took him off insulin and he was still losing weight, didn't feel hungry and had diarrhea, and back pain. In March made another doc... Show more My husband was diagnosed with new onset Diabetes September 2015, following a period of losing weight and muscle (he had been dieting to get rid of his tummy but was not overweight - never has been) I thought he was losing too much and set up a doc appointment. It was so bad (not in family) he had to go directly on metaform and insulin. Then in January the doc took him off insulin and he was still losing weight, didn't feel hungry and had diarrhea, and back pain. In March made another doc appointment and she thinks it may be his medication (he was taking januvia and she changed to just metaformin). Also did some blood work for liver enzymes but none for Pancreas? All seemed normal ranges, and that is that. Obviously I am concerned that he has Pancreatic Cancer but I can only push it so much with him and the doctor. So I have to sit back now and wait and see. Hide

3 months ago, said...

I just been informed by my doctor that my pancreas is in flamed,I had a cat scan done Friday.i still have a appetite,but I have weight loss. I just been informed by my doctor that my pancreas is in flamed,I had a cat scan done Friday.i still have a appetite,but I have weight loss. Hide

6 months ago, said...

I had a cat scan and was told my oancrews is enlarged and asked if I had pain once in while I have a gnawing pain I am diabetic. Is it normal to have no symptoms. Thank you Della I had a cat scan and was told my oancrews is enlarged and asked if I had pain once in while I have a gnawing pain I am diabetic. Is it normal to have no symptoms. Thank you Della Hide

6 months ago, said...

I've recently been prescribed Zen-Pep; told it was because my pancreas doesn't produce, or produce enough enzymes to digest & get nutrients from food. My official diagnosis is IBS and SIBO, after havin bariatric surgery scar tissue dialated, which caused a rupture at the stomach/esophageal juncture, which required a re-do of the bariatric procedure, on an emergency basis. The thought of pancreatic cancer never entered my mind. An MRI is impossible due to hardwàre in my back from car... Show more I've recently been prescribed Zen-Pep; told it was because my pancreas doesn't produce, or produce enough enzymes to digest & get nutrients from food. My official diagnosis is IBS and SIBO, after havin bariatric surgery scar tissue dialated, which caused a rupture at the stomach/esophageal juncture, which required a re-do of the bariatric procedure, on an emergency basis. The thought of pancreatic cancer never entered my mind. An MRI is impossible due to hardwàre in my back from car accident which broke it & a pain pump needed from broken back (am 8 inches shorter due to compression, but walking Praise God!!) Should I be concerned? Have been told by 3 of my Dr's O'm unusually pale. Hide

8 months ago, said...

Can cervical cancer surgery cause pancreas cancer to develop Can cervical cancer surgery cause pancreas cancer to develop Hide

9 months ago, said...

Is it hereditary? my father died of it age 79. We knew about it for 9 months. Is it hereditary? my father died of it age 79. We knew about it for 9 months. Hide

10 months ago, said...

Thank-you. Using this in research for a book. Thank-you. Using this in research for a book. Hide

10 months ago, said...

I have been diabetic for 12 years. Have been having symptoms of wait loss, abdominal pain caused by loss stolls, I get red inche pumps when I get in ocean water. I get tired often. My eyes are sensitive to bright sunlight, I get severe back pain . Are these signs of pancreatic cancer?. I have been diabetic for 12 years. Have been having symptoms of wait loss, abdominal pain caused by loss stolls, I get red inche pumps when I get in ocean water. I get tired often. My eyes are sensitive to bright sunlight, I get severe back pain . Are these signs of pancreatic cancer?. Hide

11 months ago, said...

My wife died from Pancreatic Cancer in January 2013. Her father died from Pancreatic Cancer in 2007. Although she did not have diabetes her father had it for years as did her paternal grandfather. . No one advised us of her risk factors she was diagnosed 33 days before her death as being stage four. Since her death, I have started the Judith Adele Agentis Charitable Foundation As part of its mission it is to educate individuals who have a family history are at risk experiencing some of... Show more My wife died from Pancreatic Cancer in January 2013. Her father died from Pancreatic Cancer in 2007. Although she did not have diabetes her father had it for years as did her paternal grandfather. . No one advised us of her risk factors she was diagnosed 33 days before her death as being stage four. Since her death, I have started the Judith Adele Agentis Charitable Foundation As part of its mission it is to educate individuals who have a family history are at risk experiencing some of the symptom's to secure a CT Scan with contrast through their physician. If the doctor is reluctant then seek another. Be proactive Early Detection is your greatest weapon. Hide

11 months ago, said...

Every symptom listed is also a sign of chronic pancreatitis and maybe sphincter of oddi dysfunction. I have both. It is hard to diagnose. My GP & GI doctors both missed it. Go to a GI specialist. I see one at Indiana University. Many more across the country. Every symptom listed is also a sign of chronic pancreatitis and maybe sphincter of oddi dysfunction. I have both. It is hard to diagnose. My GP & GI doctors both missed it. Go to a GI specialist. I see one at Indiana University. Many more across the country. Hide

about 1 year ago, said...

What is anyone's advice for a 29 year old lupus sufferer who has had 3 hospitalizations for acute pancreatitis in the last 4 years? Diet, vitamins, and other are all welcome : ) Thanks, Doing My Best What is anyone's advice for a 29 year old lupus sufferer who has had 3 hospitalizations for acute pancreatitis in the last 4 years? Diet, vitamins, and other are all welcome : ) Thanks, Doing My Best Hide

about 1 year ago, said...

What about dizziness and disorientation? What about dizziness and disorientation? Hide

about 1 year ago, said...

Ty for the helpful easy to understand information Ty for the helpful easy to understand information Hide

about 1 year ago, said...

approximately 4 months ago I had an episode had extreme nausea vomiting with what appeared to be coffee grounds diagnosis was more than likely food poisoning as after being treated in emergency room with IV fluids and morphine I was sent home s CAT scan was negative. I followed up with my physician as we still having abdominal pain lower right quadrant. Had many tests with blood work included in the ultrasound, when the only thing they can determine was I had a fatty liver. I have been a... Show more approximately 4 months ago I had an episode had extreme nausea vomiting with what appeared to be coffee grounds diagnosis was more than likely food poisoning as after being treated in emergency room with IV fluids and morphine I was sent home s CAT scan was negative. I followed up with my physician as we still having abdominal pain lower right quadrant. Had many tests with blood work included in the ultrasound, when the only thing they can determine was I had a fatty liver. I have been a diabetic type 2 or over 10 years. But in the last 4 months have lost 50 pounds and my A 1 C has droped from over 7 down to 5.6. I have a colonoscopy an upper endoscopy schedule in the next week as I still have stomach pain after eating and at timesit takes up to 5 days for me to have a bowel movement. Only in the last week my neighbor has told me that my body is admitting a body odor that smells like alcohol and I do not drink..could this be signs of cancer or possibly a blockage of my duodenum.I was pretty of what it maybe but the recent body odor smelling like alcohol / booze beginning only a week ago now has me confused.I guess I will wait until after the colonoscopy and endoscopy, to further evaluate what it may be. I have been told that ketoacidosis usually only applies 2 people whose blood sugar it's not under control anf extremely high then mine has lowered over the last 4 months with the weight loss. Hide

about 1 year ago, said...

I was 36 years old when I had my whipples operation. I'm now 44 and have survived any specialist prognoses. Have been told that I'm a freak, guess I'm the very lucky 4% to survive. Age probably on my side. :-) I was 36 years old when I had my whipples operation. I'm now 44 and have survived any specialist prognoses. Have been told that I'm a freak, guess I'm the very lucky 4% to survive. Age probably on my side. :-) Hide

about 1 year ago, said...

Feces is like sludge. As if I ate a lot of greens. I do eat greens maybe once a week. Very smelly feces. Some nausea. Rare. Once or twice a month Feces is like sludge. As if I ate a lot of greens. I do eat greens maybe once a week. Very smelly feces. Some nausea. Rare. Once or twice a month Hide

over 1 year ago, said...

I have concerns due to gnawing pain that radiates down but arms to my wrist. It ceases when I move about or get up. This occurs every early morning, waking me up. Have not gotten any response yet grom medical providers. This has been going on for years, and has become more severe, though not up to emergency room criteria. I have concerns due to gnawing pain that radiates down but arms to my wrist. It ceases when I move about or get up. This occurs every early morning, waking me up. Have not gotten any response yet grom medical providers. This has been going on for years, and has become more severe, though not up to emergency room criteria. Hide

over 1 year ago, said...

I have been reading about lower ab pain radiating to the back. I have been having this for several months and have just been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I have just recently started with a new doctor, due to covered ca. This office seems to be a bit lacking, as I have to repeat things several times and get varying responses each time. My question is what side does this pain radiate from? Mine is on my right rib cage area and radiates to my back just below the shoulder blades to... Show more I have been reading about lower ab pain radiating to the back. I have been having this for several months and have just been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I have just recently started with a new doctor, due to covered ca. This office seems to be a bit lacking, as I have to repeat things several times and get varying responses each time. My question is what side does this pain radiate from? Mine is on my right rib cage area and radiates to my back just below the shoulder blades to waist. It stays totally on the right side...its like there is a line it doesn't cross to left. I have been concerned but get no answers. Is this area a red flag that I should vigorously pursue? Hide

over 1 year ago, said...

I am a female. I have every symptom but the jaundice. The Itching flaky dry skin and hurting in abdomen is horrible. Had CT scan done back in March. Nothing showed up really abnormal. I got a little better than a lot worse. But the doctors refuse to run another CT scan. They said it's a high risk of too much radiation. I'm so sick. And very scared. I have more cycles then ever before. And due to losing my job and insurance- I can't afford to go to a specialist. I don't know what to do! I am a female. I have every symptom but the jaundice. The Itching flaky dry skin and hurting in abdomen is horrible. Had CT scan done back in March. Nothing showed up really abnormal. I got a little better than a lot worse. But the doctors refuse to run another CT scan. They said it's a high risk of too much radiation. I'm so sick. And very scared. I have more cycles then ever before. And due to losing my job and insurance- I can't afford to go to a specialist. I don't know what to do! Hide

over 1 year ago, said...

age is another thing to consider. Usually those with pancreatic cancer are older. But don't rule is out if your younger. I went a little backwards, I had a blood clot to which was investigated as I was young and healthy other than being overweight. A CT was done along with blood work and a spot on my pancreas was found. I was told I didn't need a biopsy because I was too young for pancreatic cancer and most likely it was just a cyst or something harmless. Given I had lost my mum to... Show more age is another thing to consider. Usually those with pancreatic cancer are older. But don't rule is out if your younger. I went a little backwards, I had a blood clot to which was investigated as I was young and healthy other than being overweight. A CT was done along with blood work and a spot on my pancreas was found. I was told I didn't need a biopsy because I was too young for pancreatic cancer and most likely it was just a cyst or something harmless. Given I had lost my mum to brain cancer, a very rare type you could count the adults on one hand, she was thec5th, a month before I had the blood clot. I chose to have the biopsy and I was 38 and told I had pancreatic cancer... Hide