Early Signs of Pancreatic Cancer

Doctor and nurse reviewing medical record in hospital
Pancreatic cancer treatment relies heavily on early diagnosis. (Image: Sam Edwards/OJO Images/GettyImages)

Pancreatic cancer is a very serious affliction that causes very few symptoms in the early stages. One of the biggest problems with pancreatic cancer is by the time symptoms become severe enough to alert the person to make a doctor’s appointment, it's already progressed to a serious stage.

It's for this reason pancreatic cancer is such a deadly disease. There are several varieties of pancreatic cancer: adenocarcinoma, islet cell carcinoma, pancreaticoblastoma and isolated sarcomas and lymphomas. Adenocarcinoma is the most common, according to the University of Texas, and makes up 95% of all cases.

1. Abdominal Pain

The most common symptom of pancreatic cancer is pain or discomfort in the upper part of the abdomen. The Mayo Clinic says this pain will begin in the front part of the abdominal area and radiate toward the back. It is often worsened after eating spicy or greasy foods. The symptom usually resembles indigestion and is dismissed as such.

2. Muscle Spasms

Because pancreatic cancer affects the hormone levels of the body, muscle spasms will occur. The most common areas to experience muscle spasms are in the arms and legs. These spasms will occur most frequently at night, when the patient is trying to wind down from the day. It is also common to have spasms of the back muscles and stomach muscles with pancreatic cancer.

3. Diabetes

The pancreas is the organ that creates insulin, which turns foods into glucose for use as energy in the body. If the pancreas isn’t creating enough insulin, there will be too much glucose in the blood, causing diabetes. If there is a sudden onset of diabetes with no prior history to blood sugar problems, pancreatic cancer is a possibility. This is especially true in elderly individuals.

4. Jaundice

If the head of the pancreas becomes obstructed due to a tumor, bilirubin will quickly begin to build in the blood stream. Bilirubin is the byproduct of bile and is yellow in color. The skin and whites of the eyes will become a yellow color with the onset of jaundice. Other symptoms of jaundice include tea-colored urine and stools that are clay-colored or white. It is also possible for a patient to experience extreme itching all over the body when jaundice sets in.

5. Pain After Eating

As explained above, one symptom of pancreatic cancer is pain after eating. This pain will be similar to indigestion, but it is much more severe than average indigestion. It is especially aggravated by spicy or greasy foods. Antacids and medications to help digestive problems will not provide any relief for the pain.

What Do YOU Think?

Are any of these symptoms surprising or unexpected to you? Let us know in the comments!

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