Pancreatic cancer often develops without early symptoms. The majority of pancreatic cancer symptoms arise because of the location of the pancreas and its relationship to other organs in the body. (It is surrounded by various organs of the digestive system.)
Symptoms of pancreas cancer are:
Jaundice—Jaundice is a condition in which a person's skin or whites of the eyes have a yellow discoloration. A person with jaundice may also have dark urine and light stool. Jaundice occurs when bilirubin, a substance produced by the liver, builds up in the blood. Normally, bilirubin travels from the liver down the bile duct and passes through the pancreas just before emptying into the first section of the small intestine, called the duodenum. If a tumor blocks the bile duct, bilirubin backs up into the liver, then spills into the blood. This causes a person to become noticeably yellow, or jaundiced.
Pain—Pain in the back and upper abdomen occurs when a tumor presses against the nerves in those areas. The pain can be an aching pain, or lead to a sensation of bloating or fullness, or be more of a burning type discomfort. Patients often find the pain difficult to describe.
Indigestion, lack of appetite, nausea, and weight loss—These symptoms occur when a pancreatic tumor presses against the stomach and small intestine. Nausea and weight loss may also result if the release of pancreas enzymes is blocked for any reason and the body cannot absorb food completely.
Other symptoms such as severe itching may occur for complex reasons. Jaundice may cause itching. If this is the case, the itching usually improves once the jaundice resolves.
Last reviewed on 10/13/09
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