Pancreatic cancer has a bad reputation, and for good reason. According to the National Cancer Institute, pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in the United States, after lung and colon.
“There are very few early symptoms of pancreatic cancer, which makes it difficult to diagnose in the early stages,” said Heinz-Joseph Lenz, MD, a USC Keck Medical Oncologist and Professor of Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine. said. of USC.
In addition, the location of the pancreas makes it difficult for doctors to feel the tumor during routine examinations. The pancreas is located deep in your body, between your stomach and spine. Often, this means the cancer is not detected until it has spread, making it difficult to treat. Pancreatic cancer symptoms can be difficult to identify, but Dr. Lenz shares seven signs that should be on the lookout for your doctor.
One of the most common symptoms of pancreatic cancer is jaundice. It is a disease that causes your eyes and skin to turn yellow due to the accumulation of bilirubin, a yellow substance produced in the liver.
“When a tumor grows in the pancreas, it pushes against your bile duct system and creates a blockage that causes bile to build up, which is called jaundice,” says Dr. Lenz.
If the cancer starts in the “head” of the fish-shaped pancreas, the tumor may be small and early-stage jaundice.
- Itchy skin
The same accumulation of bilirubin that causes jaundice can trigger another symptom of pancreatic cancer: itchy skin.
Itchy skin or itching that doesn’t clear up or doesn’t go away after a few weeks is a symptom you should talk to your doctor about.
- Changes in stool and urine
Discolored urine or stool is another problem with bilirubin and can be a sign of pancreatic cancer. “You may have darker-than-normal pee and lighter-colored stools,” says Dr. Lenz.
Excess bilirubin can turn urine brown. However, bilirubin blockage can cause the stool to be pale in color.
“Pancreatic cancer prevents the proper enzymes from getting into the gut and breaking down fat, making the stool look more greasy,” he says.
If any of the described symptoms appear and last more than a week, you should consult a doctor.
Dr. Heinz-Joseph Lenz
- Digestive problems or weight loss
Pancreatic cancer can cause digestive problems or sudden, unexplained weight loss. “If the pancreatic juices aren’t flowing, digestion isn’t completed, which can lead to bloating, loss of appetite, and weight loss,” says Dr. Lenz. If the tumor presses on the stomach, nausea and vomiting may occur.
- Abdominal and back pain
Another symptom to look out for is abdominal or back pain. This type of discomfort is more likely to occur when a tumor occurs in the “body” or “tail” of the pancreas.
“If the tumor is in the body or tail of the pancreas, symptoms may appear much later,” says Dr. Lenz. “This means that the tumor may be larger before you experience pain or discomfort in your abdomen or back.”
If you have unexplained abdominal pain for more than one to two weeks, we recommend that you get checked out.
- Blood clots in the legs or lungs
For some people, blood clots can be the first sign of pancreatic cancer. This can manifest as a blood clot in the leg called a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Or it could be a pulmonary embolism (PE), a blood clot that forms in the lungs.
“Although blood clots can be a symptom of pancreatic cancer, they are often caused by other medical conditions,” says Dr. Lenz.
- Sudden onset of diabetes
Pancreatic cancer disrupts insulin production, leading to the sudden onset of diabetes, according to the National Cancer Institute. In general, diabetes develops over time, so it’s important to see a doctor if you experience any unexpected symptoms.
Talk to your doctor about any symptoms.
It is very difficult to detect this disease early, so it is important to get checked immediately if you have symptoms of pancreatic cancer.
“If any of the described symptoms appear and last more than a week, you should see a doctor,” says Dr. Lenz.