Signs & Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer can be confusing to both patients and healthcare providers because they vary depending on where the tumor is located in the pancreas (the head, body, or tail). Furthermore, many of these symptoms are vague and non-specific and occur much more commonly with other conditions.

It is important to discuss any of the following symptoms with your physician if they occur:

Pain in the upper abdomen or back

Is a nonspecific symptom that commonly occurs with pancreatic cancer and may worsen when lying down or 3 to 4 hours after eating. Large tumours that press against nearby organs can cause pain. However, this symptom can be common with many other conditions and most likely is from something other than pancreatic cancer.


Is a condition marked by yellowing of the skin and eyes, dark urine, and light-coloured or greasy stools. Jaundice is the result of a tumor completely or partially blocking the bile duct, slowing the flow of bile into the small intestine. This leads to an increased level of bilirubin, a liver byproduct secreted in bile, in the blood. However, there are other more common causes of jaundice, including gallstones and hepatitis.

Changes in stool colour

Stools become pale and clay in color. This is often due to blockage of the bile duct. Stools can also have an odd, strong smell or float if they have too high fat content.

Overall skin itch

Is a less common and a vague symptom that is usually coupled with another symptom like abdominal pain or jaundice.

Loss of appetite and unintended weight loss

Is a symptom of various diseases and conditions, including pancreatic cancer. It can signal something severe or benign, such as a stomach virus. This is usually one of the first symptoms experienced along with abdominal pain.

Diabetes late in life

Pancreatic cancer may impede the pancreas’ ability to produce insulin, resulting in diabetes mellitus. It is important to note that most people develop diabetes mellitus because of reasons unrelated to pancreatic cancer. However, late onset of diabetes mellitus can be indicative of pancreatic cancer, either as cause or effect. Signs may include thirst, hunger, and excessive urination.

Nausea and vomiting

Are other vague symptoms of pancreatic cancer that are common among many other conditions.

Diarrhea and Constipation

When the nutrients in food are not absorbed properly you may experience diarrhea. This can cause a loose stool that is watery, oily, and foul-smelling. Constipation is a common problem, particularly in patients taking pain medications. These medications slow the passage of food through the intestines. Both of these symptoms occur much more frequently with other conditions.

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