Understanding Pancreatic Cancer -- Symptoms

Medically Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on August 25, 2022
2 min read

Early pancreatic cancers usually 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 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.
  • 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 gastrointestinal symptoms, such as stomach pain and watery diarrhea, which do not respond to antacids or ulcer medications

If you experience any of these symptoms, call your doctor for a full physical exam.