People with pancreatic cancer often have no symptoms until the cancer has spread (metastasised) to other organs.
Exocrine and endocrine pancreatic cancers can have different symptoms.
The most common symptoms of exocrine pancreatic cancer are:
- jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin); this may be associated with dark urine, light-coloured stools (bowel motions) and itchy skin
- pain in the abdomen or back
- weight loss and loss of appetite
- pale and greasy stools
- nausea and vomiting
- fatigue (tiredness)
- enlargement of the gallbladder
- blood clot in the leg
- uneven texture in the fatty tissue under the skin
- changes in blood sugar levels, including diabetes.
Endocrine pancreatic cancers that release excess hormones into the bloodstream cause different symptoms, depending on the type of hormone-producing cell involved. For example, if the cancer affects the cells that make insulin (a hormone that lowers blood glucose levels), too much insulin will be produced, leading to low blood glucose levels and symptoms such as weakness, confusion and sweating. If the cancer affects cells that produce gastrin (a hormone that tells the stomach to make acid), too much gastrin and therefore too much acid will be produced, leading to stomach problems.
Nonfunctional neuroendocrine tumours, which do not produce excess hormones, usually only cause symptoms when they become quite large. The symptoms can be similar to those of exocrine pancreatic cancer.
Endocrine pancreatic cancers often spread to the liver and affect liver function, causing jaundice, pain and loss of appetite.
Many conditions can cause these symptoms, not just pancreatic cancer. If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor.
- American Cancer Society (2015). Pancreatic cancer http://www.cancer.org/cancer/pancreaticcancer/detailedguide/index (accessed 5 May 2015).
- National Cancer Institute (2015). Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (islet cell tumors) treatment (PDQ®) http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/isletcell/Patient, patient version (accessed 5 May 2015).
- National Cancer Institute (2015). Pancreatic cancer treatment (PDQ®) http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/pancreatic/Patient, patient version (accessed 5 May 2015).