Understanding Pancreatic Cancer: Signs and Symptoms

Understanding Pancreatic Cancer: Signs and Symptoms

Pancreatic cancer often manifests subtly, making early detection challenging. Awareness of its signs is crucial for timely intervention. This type of cancer is notorious for its silent progression, often showing vague symptoms until it reaches an advanced stage. Recognizing these signs can significantly impact early diagnosis and treatment outcomes.


Yellowing of the skin and eyes occurs due to a buildup of bilirubin, a substance made by the liver. This happens when the cancer blocks the bile duct, impairing bile flow. John Hopkins Medicine lists additional symptoms that include dark urine, pale/greasy stools that float in the toilet or pruritis (itchy skin).

Abdominal Pain

Persistent pain in the upper abdomen often spreading to the back, often dull or achy, may signal pancreatic cancer. This discomfort typically worsens after eating or lying down and can often be relieved by leaning forward. The level of pain one feels can come and go, however becomes more persistent as the tumor grows and the cancer becomes more advanced.

Unexplained Weight Loss

Rapid and unexplained weight loss, despite normal eating habits, can be a red flag. Pancreatic cancer can interfere with digestion and nutrient absorption, causing an individual to consume fewer calories than the Recommended Daily Value. Cancer cachexia can cause the body to burn more calories than usual and breaks down muscle protein.

Changes in Stool

Light-colored or greasy stools might indicate pancreatic cancer. The American Cancer Society states that if bile and pancreatic enzymes can’t get through to the intestines to help break down fats, changes in the stool can happen which leads to the change.

Loss of Appetite

One nutritional challenge with pancreatic cancer is sudden loss of appetite or feeling full after eating small amounts. This is often associated with digestive issues caused by the tumor or medications that cause food to be unappealing. Replacing a meal with a nutritional supplement drink can help add calories and protein to ones diet.

New-Onset Diabetes

In some cases, pancreatic cancer can lead to the onset of diabetes, especially when coupled with other symptoms like weight loss and abdominal pain. Research suggests that new-onset diabetes in a person over 50 could be an early sign of pancreatic cancer.

Digestive Problems

Nausea, vomiting, and difficulty digesting fatty foods can occur due to the pancreas’ role in producing digestive enzymes. Malnutrition is contributed to the cancer’s ability to block the pancreatic duct, which carries enzymes from the pancreas to the duodenum. This can be managed with pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT).


Generalized weakness and fatigue may accompany pancreatic cancer, as the body’s energy is redirected to fighting the disease. While fatigue may be due to the cancer itself, other causes may be side effects of treatment or an onset of depression dealing with this new diagnosis.

Blood Clotting Issues

Unexplained blood clots, particularly in veins of the legs, can occur when pancreatic cancer affects normal blood flow and clotting mechanisms. The risk of blood clots, or DVTs (deep vein thrombosis), is higher in those diagnosis with pancreatic cancer due to the cancer itself or prescribed treatments.


Early detection of pancreatic cancer is crucial for improving prognosis and treatment outcomes. If you experience any of these symptoms persistently, especially if you’re at risk due to factors like smoking, obesity, or family history, consult a healthcare professional promptly. Early intervention can make a significant difference in your journey to better health.

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