The truth about cancer symptoms and the pancreas

November 12, 2012

The truth about cancer symptoms and the pancreas

There are some surprising early symptoms of pancreatic cancer.

Many articles on the subject of pancreatic cancer will indicate that there are no early cancer symptoms connected to this disease. Very often anyone who diagnosed with pancreatic cancer is found to be at an advanced stage of the disease and may a life expectancy of as little as five years.

What is the pancreas?

The pancreas is a small organ found deep in the abdomen – it measures less than six inches and bears a resemblance to a tadpole. The tail of the pancreas is responsible for producing insulin, a tumour in this area of the organ is quite rare but easier to diagnose. The other end of the pancreas produces digestive enzymes, tumours in this region are more difficult to detect and occur more frequently.

Are there any early cancer symptoms for the pancreas?

Although the general assumption is that there are no cancer symptoms associated with pancreatic cancer there are, in fact, quite a number that may mean very little when considered individually but when looked at together may well point a medical practitioner in the right diagnostic direction.

  • Sudden onset diabetes – recent research shows that 40% of pancreatic cancer sufferers had received a diabetes diagnosis within the preceding two years of the discovery of pancreatic cancer. It is possible that the undetected tumours in the pancreas cause the diabetes. Any individual who develops sudden onset diabetes and has no family history of the disease should consider requesting pancreatic cancer screening.

  • Jaundice of the eyes or skin – yellowing of the skin and eyes may well be a cancer symptom. This discolouration may be caused by a build up of bile resulting from a blockage in the bile duct, which, in turn, may be caused by a small tumour in the pancreas.

  • Itching on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet – associated with jaundice.

  • Lack of appetite – research has shown that, prior to diagnosis, and in the absence of any cancer symptoms, pancreatic cancer patients have reported a general lack of appetite and feelings of fullness even after a small meal.

  • Sensory changes – particularly the senses of taste and smell.

  • Gnawing abdominal pain, radiating to the back but which disappears on leaning forward.

  • Enlarged gall bladder – also caused by a build up bile behind the duct and easily recognised with imaging tests.

  • Pale stools, which float and have an unusually unpleasant smell. This is a result of an inability to digest fatty foods caused by a pancreatic tumour and is often an early cancer symptom that is ignored.

  • Dark stools which appear to have a tarry consistency may be the result of bleeding in the upper intestine

  • Sudden, unexplained weight loss – this may well be the result of fat passing undigested through the body due to decreased production of pancreatic enzymes.

What next?

If you are concerned about any of these symptoms, it is important to make a note of when and how frequently they occur and then discuss them with your medical practitioner. He, or she, may be reluctant to begin any investigations but, if you are genuinely worried, you can insist on getting a second opinion. Some of the tests involved in diagnosis of pancreatic cancer include -

  • Ultrasound scan

  • CT scan

  • MRI

  • Endoscopy and biopsy

  • Blood tests including CA-19-9

Early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer greatly improves the survival rate of patients; reporting any symptoms to your doctor, no matter how insignificant they appear to you, may make all the difference in the progression of the disease.

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