Signs of pancreatic cancer: When to see a doctor?
The pancreas is one of the organs in the digestive system. It rests behind the stomach and regulates blood sugar levels by secreting the hormones insulin, glucagon, somatostatin, and pancreatic polypeptide. Few people think of their pancreas when considering their most valuable organs, but it is essential to ensuring food is digested properly. When the pancreas develops cancer, it is difficult to diagnose and treat because the early stages cause few noticeable symptoms. However, it is important to see a professional straight away if you experience any of the following signs of pancreatic cancer.
Signs of Pancreatic Cancer
There are several key tell-tale signs of pancreatic cancer. They include:
- Belly or Back Pain
- Weight Loss
- Poor Appetite
- Nausea and Vomiting
- Gallbladder or Liver Enlargement
- Blood Clots
Jaundice is the most common symptom and is the yellowing of the eyes and skin. The yellowing is caused by the buildup of bilirubin. Bilirubin is made in the pancreas and is often called bile. It goes through a duct connecting the pancreas to the intestines and helps break down eaten fats. If the duct becomes obscured by a tumor, the bile has nowhere to go and builds up.
There are some other signs of jaundice patients should be aware of, including:
- Dark Urine
- Light, Greasy Stools
- Itchy Skin
Belly or Back Pain
It is common to experience pain in the abdomen from pancreatic cancer because a tumor in the pancreas will press against the other organs. The pain will be dull and consistent. However, experiencing abdominal pain is common, so a doctor will often check for other symptoms.
Weight Loss and Poor Appetite
These two symptoms often go hand in hand. Weight loss is common with most forms of cancer, and poor appetite can be the result of low bile production and poor food breakdown in the stomach.
Nausea and Vomiting
If a cancerous tumor presses against the far end of the stomach, it can partially block it. The result is trouble eating and pain during and after food consumption.
Gallbladder or Liver Enlargement
If cancer in the pancreas blocks the bile duct, bile will build up in the gallbladder and cause it to enlarge and become inflamed. At the same time, pancreatic cancer can cause the liver to swell or become enlarged, especially if it has spread to the other organs in the abdomen.
For many individuals, the first sign they have developed pancreatic cancer is the presence of a blood clot in a large vein called deep vein thrombosis. If a part of the clot breaks off and enters the lungs, it can make it difficult to breathe and result in chest pain as a result of a pulmonary embolism.
One final and rare symptom is the development of diabetes. This occurs when cancer destroys the body’s natural insulin-making cells, leading to high blood sugar and the inability of the body to break down sugars on its own.
It’s important to note that diabetes is an uncommon symptom and is often the result of other factors affecting the body, including genetics and obesity.
When to See a Doctor?
Many professionals recommend visiting a doctor once you start to experience any one of these symptoms as they are all indicative of underlying problems. This is of the utmost importance since many signs of pancreatic cancer do not appear until the later stages of development. If you reach the advanced stages of cancer, you can experience the following:
- Worsening upper abdomen or back pain, especially after eating or lying down
- Extreme fatigue
- Bed sores
- Recently diagnosed diabetes