In many cases, the symptoms of pancreatic cancer are not apparent until the disease has advanced and spread to other organs and areas of the body. These symptoms can include:
- Diabetes: Although rare, exocrine cancers can cause diabetes by destroying insulin-making cells.
- Digestive problems: Cancer may prevent pancreatic enzymes from being released into the intestine, making it difficult to digest foods and resulting in significant weight loss and malnutrition.
- Gallbladder enlargement: If the cancer blocks the bile duct, the bile buildup may enlarge the gallbladder.
- Itching: Severe itching, which occurs when high levels of bile acids accumulate in the skin, may develop in the later stages of pancreatic cancer.
- Jaundice: Yellowing of the skin and eyes occurs when bilirubin, a breakdown product of worn-out blood cells, accumulates in the blood. Bilirubin accumulates when a pancreatic tumor blocks the flow of bile. This is a common symptom in about half the cases of pancreatic cancer.
- Loss of appetite and unintentional weight loss: Weight loss may result from the loss of appetite associated with pancreatic cancer.
- Nausea and vomiting: In advanced-stage pancreatic cancer, the tumor may block the upper portion of the small intestine, causing nausea and vomiting.
- Upper abdominal pain: This is a common symptom of advanced-stage pancreatic cancer. Pain is often caused by a tumor pressing on surrounding nerves and organs.