Pancreatic cancer often is called a "silent" disease because it typically doesn't cause symptoms early on. The cancer may grow and spread for some time before symptoms develop, which may be so vague that they are initially ignored. For these reasons, pancreatic cancer is hard to detect early. In many cases, the cancer has spread outside the pancreas by the time it is found.
When symptoms appear, their type and severity depend on the location and size of the tumor.
Common symptoms may include:
- Jaundice — If the tumor blocks the bile duct so bile can't flow into the intestines, jaundice may occur, causing the skin and whites of the eyes to turn yellow, the urine to become dark and the stool to turn clay-colored.
- Pain — As the cancer grows and spreads, pain often develops in the upper abdomen and the back. The pain may increase after a person eats or lies down.
- Weight Loss — Cancer of the pancreas can also cause unintentional weight loss. This is often due to an inadequate intake of calories because of nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite.
- Digestive Problems — Digestive problems may occur if the cancer blocks the pancreatic juices from flowing into the intestines, which help the body break down dietary fats, proteins and carbohydrates. Stools may be different than usual and appear pale, bulky or greasy, float in the toilet, or be particularly foul-smelling.
Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.