What are the symptoms of pancreatic cancer?

A fellow caregiver asked...

What are the signs or symptoms of pancreatic cancer?

Expert Answer

Senior Editor Melanie Haiken, who is responsible for Caring.com's coverage of cancer, general health, and family finance, discovered how important it is to provide accurate, targeted, usable health information to people facing difficult decisions.

The problem with pancreatic cancer "“ and the reason so many cases aren't diagnosed until an advanced stage "“ is that early-stage pancreatic tumors don't cause many noticeable symptoms. For this reason, it's important to have regular check-ups, as sometimes doctors find tumors during exams. It's also important to know if you have a family history of pancreatic cancer, which greatly increases your odds. (So does smoking; it doubles your odds.) Signs of pancreatic cancer include:

"¢ Weight loss "¢ Loss of appetite "¢ Abdominal pain "¢ Back pain (sometimes radiating from the abdomen) "¢ Jaundice "¢ Fatigue "¢ Depression

Despite the prevalence of high-profile pancreatic cancer cases in the news (Patrick Swayze, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Steve Jobs), pancreatic cancer is relatively rare, striking only 38,000 people a year in the U.S. The most common type, adenocarcinoma in the ducts of the pancreas, accounts for 85 percent of all cases, while the rarer endocrine tumors "“ which have a much higher cure rate"”account for only 15 percent of all cases.

Other signs reported by pancreatic cancer patients:

An inflamed pancreas can cause a number of symptoms that mimic other conditions. Often it may produce too much insulin, causing symptoms that resemble diabetes such as:

"¢ glucose intolerance "¢ diarrhea "¢ chills or muscle spasms "¢ dizziness or weakness