Pancreatic symptoms and warning signs to watch out for

Presse Santé

Survival rates are better when the disease is caught and treated early, but early symptoms tend to be subtle. Which ones do you need to know?

Pancreatic cancer affects the pancreas, a small organ located between the stomach and the spine. It is notoriously difficult to detect early because its most visible symptoms, such as jaundice, usually don’t appear until late in the disease. Pancreatic cancer has a five-year survival rate of 11.5%. One reason for this high mortality rate is that the disease is often only diagnosed after it has spread outside the pancreas. Treatment options for advanced pancreatic cancer are limited and less likely to be successful. The lack of specific signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer in the early stages of the disease, especially symptoms that can be distinguished from those of other more common diseases, makes continued scientific efforts to develop a reliable screening test particularly essential .

Two Parts of the Pancreas Commonly Affected by Cancer

The pancreas is made up of two main parts. The first, called the exocrine component, is made up of ducts and small sacs at the end of the ducts. These produce enzymes that help the body digest food, especially fats. The other part of the pancreas is the endocrine component. These are small groups of cells located throughout the pancreas that secrete hormones like insulin, which help control blood sugar. The symptoms of pancreatic cancer vary depending on the part of the pancreas that has developed cancer.

Exocrine pancreatic cancer: more frequent and more symptomatic

Cancers that affect exocrine cells are much more likely to cause symptoms than those that affect endocrine cells. Among the most common symptoms of exocrine pancreatic cancer are those caused by the buildup of bilirubin, a dark yellowish-brown substance excreted by the liver as part of a digestive fluid called bile. Normally, this fluid passes through the common bile duct, passes through the pancreas, travels to the intestines, and is then passed out of the body in the stool. In the case of pancreatic cancer, this process can go wrong.

Symptoms related to bilirubin problems include:


Most people with exocrine pancreatic cancer develop jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes) as one of the first symptoms. If pancreatic cancer blocks the common bile duct, it can cause a buildup of bilirubin, leading to jaundice. Jaundice can also be a sign of pancreatic cancer that has metastasized to the liver. Although jaundice is a common sign of pancreatic cancer, the most common reasons for this symptom are gallstones or hepatitis.

Dark and itchy urine

Elevated levels of bilirubin can cause a buildup of substances that are normally broken down in the body and excreted. This can lead to symptoms like dark urine and itchy skin.

stool disorders

Bilirubin gives stool its brown color; if it does not reach the intestine due to a blocked bile duct, the stool may be abnormally pale. Bilirubin also helps break down fat during digestion, so blockages in the common bile duct sometimes result in greasy-looking stools that can float down the toilet.

Other possible symptoms of exocrine pancreatic cancer include:

Pain in the stomach or back due to the cancer pressing on nearby organs or spreading to the nerves.
unintentional weight loss
Unexplained loss of appetite
Digestive problems, including nausea and vomiting, caused by stomach obstruction.
Enlargement of the liver or gallbladder (due to a buildup of bile).
irregularity of the adipose tissue under the skin due to the release of pancreatic enzymes.
Diabetes (in rare cases, pancreatic cancer can destroy the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas).
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot in a large vein, often in the leg, which can cause pain, swelling, redness, and a feeling of warmth.

Pancreatic endocrine cancers: a rarer type

Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (PNETs), or islet tumors, are a rare type of pancreatic cancer, accounting for less than 5% of all pancreatic cancers. This type of pancreatic cancer affects the hormone-producing cells located in the pancreas. Although they can be life-threatening, pancreatic PNETs tend to be less dangerous than exocrine pancreatic cancer.
Malignant neuroendocrine cells cause the pancreas to overproduce hormones. Excesses of different types of hormones cause different types of symptoms.

Types of PNET include:


These tumors secrete a hormone that tells the stomach to make acid. Too much causes pain, nausea, and loss of appetite, along with other more serious symptoms, such as bleeding ulcers.


By producing a hormone that raises blood glucose, these tumors can sometimes cause diabetes. Most people with this condition visit the doctor because of a strange blistering rash that appears in different places on the skin.


These tumors secrete insulin, which sometimes causes low blood sugar and dizziness, weakness, confusion, sweating, and rapid heartbeat.

Non-functional neuroendocrine tumors

They do not produce excessive amounts of hormones. Symptoms resemble those of exocrine pancreatic cancer, such as jaundice.

Symptom management: Essential for all care

The symptoms of pancreatic cancer can vary from person to person and change over time. Coping with the symptoms of pancreatic cancer and the side effects of treatment can be a struggle. Some patients may need help coping with pain, fatigue, and nausea, for example, while others may benefit from help coping with the emotional aspects of the illness.

* Presse Santé strives to transmit health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE, the information provided can not replace the advice of a health professional.

Do you like our content?

Receive our latest publications for free and directly to your mailbox every day.

#Pancreatic #symptoms #warning #signs #watch

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *