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Understanding Pancreatic Cancer -- Symptoms

What Are the Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer?

Early pancreatic cancers cause few symptoms, most of which are vague. Because signs and symptoms of most pancreatic cancer may be mistaken for less-serious digestive problems, the disease is rarely detected before it has spread to nearby tissues or distant organs via the bloodstream or lymphatic system. Symptoms that may arise, in typical order of occurrence, include:

  • Significant weight loss accompanied by abdominal pain -- the most likely warning signs.
  • Vague but gradually worsening abdominal pain that may decrease when leaning forward and increase when lying down. Pain is often severe at night and may radiate to the lower back.
  • Digestive or bowel complaints such as diarrhea, constipation, gas pains, bloating, or belching.
  • Nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite.
  • Jaundice, which is usually painless and is indicated by yellowish discoloration of the skin and eye whites, very dark urine, and light-colored stools.
  • Sudden onset of glucose tolerance disorder, such as diabetes.
  • Black or bloody stool, indicating bleeding from the digestive tract.
  • Overall weakness.
  • Enlarged liver and gallbladder.
  • Itching.
  • Clay- or light-colored stools.
  • Bronze urine color.
  • Blood clots in the legs.
  • Mental status changes, such as a new onset of depression.

A few rare types of pancreatic cancer cause hormonal imbalances that produce their own symptoms, which might include:

  • Episodes of weakness, sweating, rapid heartbeat, irritability, or skin flushing related to low blood sugar
  • Severe watery diarrhea
  • A new, unusual skin rash
  • Severe ulcer symptoms, such as stomach pain and watery diarrhea, which do not respond to antacids or ulcer medications

If you experience any of these symptoms for longer than two weeks, call your doctor for a full physical examination.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Sujana Movva, MD on April 02, 2013

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