Pancreatic cancer has been called the “silent killer” because of how easy it is to overlook symptoms before it’s too late.
Arguably, part of what makes the disease so deadly is that the cancer has already metastasized in most people diagnosed. Only 13% of cases remain confined to their primary site, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
A survey conducted by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network in 2022 found that 83% of adults are unaware of the signs of the disease. Although there is no standard screening method for pancreatic cancer, experts are increasingly warning that early detection of symptoms can save lives.
Jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and eyes, is the most common first sign of pancreatic cancer. It is caused by a buildup of bilirubin, a yellowish-brown substance made by the liver. The liver secretes bile, a liquid that aids digestion and contains bilirubin.
In normal liver function, bile moves through the ducts in the intestines and helps break down fats.
However, when the bile ducts become blocked, bilirubin builds up, causing yellowing of the skin and eyes.
This happens because the pancreas is close to the body’s common bile duct, so tumors press on the duct even when they are still small and undetectable on examination.
However, tumors in the lower part of the pancreas do not compress the duct until they have spread throughout the organ, which they do in later stages of the disease.
Pancreatic cancer can also spread to the liver.
Other signs of jaundice include dark urine, light or greasy stools, and itchy skin.
Cancers that form first in the body or in the lower parts of the pancreas can grow very quickly and put pressure on nearby organs.
This cancer also puts pressure on the nerves surrounding these organs. The stomach is an associated organ.
The Pancreas Action Network estimates that approximately 70% of patients have this pain at the time of diagnosis.
At first it may come and go, and it gets worse when you lie down or eat. As tumors grow, the pain may become more constant and last longer.
The pain can also radiate from the stomach to the back.
This pain is often localized in the middle of the back or just below the shoulder blades. It can also reach the shoulders.
Similar to stomach pain, this is more common when tumors are in the pancreas or the lower part of it.
This pain also tends to be worse when lying down or just after eating, like a stomach ache.
sudden weight loss
Lack of appetite can be caused by a lack of functional pancreatic enzymes that help break down fats, carbohydrates, and proteins.
This can lead to unintended weight loss and often indicates a medical error.
Malignant cells can also deplete nutrients in the body, which means that the patient needs more calories. If the patient does not get the necessary amount of calories, he risks losing weight.
Unusual changes in stool can be a sign of pancreatic cancer.
And although it occurs after sudden dietary changes, such as adding foods like broccoli, beans, and lentils to your diet, loose stools can be linked to a lack of bile.
The liver does this to filter out waste products such as toxins and excess cholesterol.
Not having enough bile in the stool can be an indication of malabsorption of bile acid. When bile is not properly absorbed, it causes chemical imbalances.
If a tumor is blocking the pancreatic duct, insufficient nutrients from the pancreas can lead to malabsorption and diarrhea because undigested food passes through the digestive tract too quickly.
This results in a large amount of fat in the stool, causing it to float or appear greasy or pale.