Symptoms of pancreatic cancer
Pancreatic cancer may not cause symptoms for a long time.
Some people may have only one symptom. The main symptoms are:
pain or discomfort
Pancreatic cancer can also cause other symptoms. These are listed below.
Pain or discomfort
This often begins in the upper part of the tummy (abdomen). Sometimes it spreads to the back. The pain may come and go, or it may be there all the time. It may feel worse after eating or when you are lying down. It might feel better when you are sitting up or bending forward.
Remember, cancer is not the cause of most pain in the abdomen. But you should see your doctor if you are worried.
If the cancer is in the head of the pancreas, it can block the bile duct. This means you may develop jaundice. Cancer in the tail or body of the pancreas is less likely to cause jaundice.Jaundice happens when bile cannot drain away, but collects in your body. This can cause symptoms such as:
yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes
dark yellow pee (urine)
pale and smelly poo (stools) that is difficult to flush away (steatorrhoea).
Pancreatic cancer is not the most common cause of jaundice. Other illnesses, affecting the liver and bile duct, are more common.
This is common and may happen even if you have not changed what you eat.
You may feel sick or be sick if you have jaundice, or if the pancreas is inflamed and swollen.
Pancreatic cancer can cause other symptoms, such as:
losing your appetite
feeling bloated after meals
having diarrhoea or changing bowel habits
feeling very tired
being newly diagnosed with diabetes - not associated with weight gain
getting a blood clot in the leg (deep vein thrombosis or DVT) or the lungs (pulmonary embolus).
Most people with these symptoms will not have pancreatic cancer. More common conditions can be causing them. But if you have any symptoms, it is important to get them checked by your doctor.
What is pancreatic cancer?
Abdominal surgeon Charles Imber talks about symptoms and treatments for pancreatic cancer in our video
Risk factors and causes of pancreatic cancer
Doctors don’t know what causes pancreatic cancer, but some things can increase your risk of developing it (risk factors).
Age – Pancreatic cancer mainly affects people in middle and older age.
Smoking and tobacco – About 3 in 10 pancreatic cancers in the UK (30%) may be due to smoking.
Diet – A diet high in red or processed meat, fat and sugar and low in fresh fruit and vegetables may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer.
Alcohol – Regularly drinking large amounts of alcohol may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer.
Body weight and physical activity – Being very overweight (obese) and being physically inactive may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer.
Previous cancer – Pancreatic cancer is slightly more common in people who have had cancer before.
Family history – About 5-10 out of every 100 pancreatic cancers (5-10%) may be linked to faulty genes that can run in families.
Medical conditions – Some medical conditions may be linked to, or increase the risk of, pancreatic cancer, including chronic pancreatitis, diabetes and some infections