Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms, Signs & Pain

Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms, Signs & Pain

VIDEO | 02:15

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer?

Learn about the symptoms of pancreatic cancer, such as abdominal pain and nausea.
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Early symptoms: There are no early warning signs for pancreatic cancer. Symptoms such as pain from pancreatic cancer can be easy to miss. You may not notice them, or you may think the symptoms are not from cancer.

Advanced symptoms: You may not notice symptoms until pancreatic cancer spreads and harms organs.

The signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer depend on the tumor’s location. People feel different symptoms based on where the tumor is.

You can have pain or weight loss when the tumor is on the body or tail of your pancreas.

You may get jaundice (yellow tint to skin or eyes) when the tumor is at the head of your pancreas. Symptoms get worse as the tumor grows and spreads.

Symptoms of pancreatic cancer

Jaundice (yellowing of skin or whites of the eyes)

Jaundice is one of the first symptoms of pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer is already at an advanced stage when there are signs of jaundice. Tumors that start in the head of the pancreas are near the common bile duct. You will have symptoms if the duct gets blocked.

Bile is a fluid made by your liver. It helps break down food. Your bile flows from your liver through your bile ducts to your small intestine.

Your bile duct can be narrowed or blocked by scar tissue or a tumor. When this happens, bile can no longer flow into the first part of your small intestine, called the duodenum. This causes the bile to collect in your liver.

The tumor may still be small when it blocks or presses on the common bile duct. Sometimes we can find pancreatic cancer at an early stage when that happens.

A tumor that starts in the tail or body of the pancreas can spread through the organ and then block the bile duct.

Itchy skin

Jaundice can sometimes cause itchy skin.

Pain in the upper abdomen (belly)

You may feel a dull pain in your stomach area. The pain can feel like it starts near your stomach and spreads to your lower back.

Pain in the lower back

Pancreatic cancer tumors can grow in the body or tail of the pancreas. The tumor presses on the spine and causes pain. Lower back pain also happens when cancer spreads to the nerves around the pancreas.

When tumors get big, they put painful pressure on nearby organs.

Nausea (feeling like throwing up), vomiting (throwing up), or a burning feeling in the stomach

The pancreatic tumor can press on your stomach or spread to areas that affect your gastrointestinal system. If it blocks your stomach, you may feel like vomiting when you eat. You can feel full right away while eating.

Weight loss

Weight loss is a common symptom of many kinds of cancer, including pancreatic cancer. You can have weight loss you cannot explain.

You may have a poor appetite (not feeling hungry), which causes weight loss. This is a very common symptom of pancreatic cancer, but weight loss also is caused by many other health conditions.

Large, light-colored, greasy stools (poop)

When the pancreatic tumor is in the head of the pancreas, it can block the common bile duct. This also blocks the pigment that gives stool its dark color.

Your stool can look greasy because the cancer is making it hard for you to digest fatty foods. Enzymes cannot get to fatty foods to break them up when the bile duct is blocked.

Sudden onset of type 2 diabetes

In some people, pancreatic cancer can cause sudden onset of type 2 diabetes. The condition also can be caused by obesity and other factors.

Is it pancreatic cancer?

Many of these symptoms also can be caused by health problems that are more common than pancreatic cancer. Hepatitis, gallstones, and other liver problems can block the bile duct. These are more common causes of jaundice. Tell your doctor if you have any of these symptoms.

During a medical exam, your doctor may find other signs of pancreatic cancer, such as an enlarged gallbladder.  

Relief from pancreatic cancer pain and other symptoms of pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer can be painful. Pancreatic cancer can cause back pain. People often feel pain in the lower pack from pancreatic cancer.

MSK was the country’s first cancer center to have a service just for treating pain in people with cancer. Our pain specialists can help you with pain symptoms, including pain that is sudden, very bad, or does not go away. Our goal is to keep you as comfortable as possible.

Learn more about how we can help with pain.

Request an Appointment

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