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Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer

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Pancreatic cancer usually does not cause symptoms in its earliest stages. When they do appear, the cancer is usually advanced and difficult to treat. Symptoms are generally vague and are ignored while the cancer grows and spreads.

If you experience any of these symptoms do not assume it is due to cancer. Most of these symptoms may be caused by other, less serious health conditions. If you experience any one of them, see your doctor.

  • Decreased appetite—This may be one of the first symptoms of pancreatic cancer. Since this may not be immediately noticed and could be a symptom of many other conditions, appetite loss may be overlooked until other symptoms develop.
  • Unintended weight loss—Over time, all people with pancreatic cancer tend to fall about 10% below their ideal body weight. This is due both to their decreased appetite and to their body's inability to process and utilize the nutrients in food. As cancer cells damage and destroy the cells of the pancreas, the pancreas loses the ability to aid in digestion.
  • Pain —Nearly all patients with pancreatic cancer have pain, often becoming quite severe as the disease advances. The pain is usually located in the abdomen, legs, and mid-back, often worse after eating or while lying down.
  • Jaundice consists of a yellow discoloration of the skin, mucus membranes (tissue including that which lines the mouth), and whites of the eyes. When pancreatic cancer strikes the head of the pancreas, jaundice may occur earlier in the disease because the tumor puts pressure on the common bile duct, the tube that connects the pancreas, liver, and gallbladder to the intestine. When the cancer is located in the body or tail of the pancreas however, jaundice may occur later in the course of the disease.
  • Fatigue and muscle weakness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dark urine, light-colored stool—Like jaundice, these symptoms occur earlier in the disease when the tumor is located in the head of the pancreas, causing obstruction of the common bile duct.
  • Depression, mood swings —Many individuals with pancreatic cancer notice changes in their general mood and emotions.
  • General itching, which is difficult to treat, is a common symptom.


  • Cruz MD, Young AP, Ruffin MT. Diagnosis and management of pancreatic cancer. Am Fam Physician. 2014;89(8):626-632.
  • Pancreatic cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: Accessed October 5, 2015.
  • Pancreatic cancer. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated February 23, 2015. Accessed October 5, 2015.
  • Pancreatic cancer. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: Updated July 2014. Accessed October 5, 2015.

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