Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms

A man talking to his doctor about his stomach pain.

Pancreatic cancer symptoms are often vague when the cancer is in its early stages, and therefore the symptoms can be very difficult to correctly attribute to a specific condition. What’s more, the signs can vary based on the location and type of the cancer. Because many patients do not notice their symptoms until the cancer reaches an advanced stage, it’s important to learn to identify possible signs, pay close attention to your body and be aware of what is normal for you.

Common symptoms of pancreatic cancer

Some common pancreatic cancer signs and symptoms that can lead to a diagnosis include:

  • Jaundice – Most people with pancreatic cancer experience jaundice as one of their first symptoms. It involves the yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes. Symptoms related to jaundice include dark-colored urine, pale-colored stools and itchy skin.
  • Pain – Because pancreatic cancer can put pressure on nearby organs, it can lead to pain in the upper or middle abdomen and back.
  • Digestive difficulties – This can include indigestion, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting.
  • New-onset diabetes – Pancreatic cancer destroys cells that make insulin, which in turn can lead to high blood sugar levels, or diabetes.
  • Unexplained weight loss – Sometimes, pancreatic cancer causes a feeling of fullness or a reduction in appetite. This can lead to unintentional weight loss.
  • Weakness or fatigue – As with other types of cancer, pancreatic cancer can cause feelings of extreme tiredness or weakness in the limbs.

Symptoms of advanced pancreatic cancer

In addition to the above symptoms, signs of advanced-stage pancreatic cancer can sometimes include:

  • Hepatomegaly – People with pancreatic cancer may experience an enlargement of the liver, which can cause a mass in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen. This is even more likely if the cancer has spread to the liver.
  • Gallbladder enlargement – When the cancer blocks the bile duct, it can lead to a buildup of bile in the gallbladder.
  • An accumulation of fluid in the belly – This can cause the abdomen to become swollen and distended.
  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) – Blood clots may form in large veins, often in one of the legs. DVT may cause swelling, redness, pain or warmth in the affected area.

Risk factors of pancreatic cancer

A risk factor is anything that may increase your chance of being diagnosed with a disease, such as pancreatic cancer. While having a risk factor doesn’t mean you will develop pancreatic cancer, it’s important to be aware of the risks so you can discuss them with your doctor. Some of the most common risk factors of pancreatic cancer include:

  • Having chronic pancreatitis
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having diabetes
  • Smoking tobacco products
  • Being male
  • Having an inherited condition such as hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome, familial atypical multiple mole melanoma (FAMM) syndrome, familial pancreatitis, Lynch syndrome or Peutz-Jeghers syndrome

Seeking treatment for pancreatic cancer

If you experience one or more pancreatic cancer symptoms, it does not necessarily mean that you have pancreatic cancer. Because there are many other common medical issues that can cause these or similar symptoms, an accurate diagnosis is essential. Therefore, you should follow up promptly with a health care provider who can evaluate your condition and recommend an appropriate treatment.

portrait of blockquote author

"Pancreatic cancer is notoriously difficult to detect at early stage because of the non-specific nature of the symptoms. If you have symptoms that concern you, speak to your health care provider to determine if you are candidate for additional diagnostic testing. Our pancreas team at Moffitt work with multiple providers in the community to aid in the screening, diagnosis, and treatment of pancreatic cancer and pre-cancerous lesions."

- Aamir Dam, MD

Medically reviewed by Aamir Dam, MD.

If you have questions about pancreatic cancer symptoms, you do not need a referral to consult with the outstanding team of experts in Moffitt Cancer Center’s Gastrointestinal Oncology Program, where we offer a full range of treatments and supportive care services in a single, convenient location. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 1-888-663-3488 or complete a new patient registration form online.