Pancreatic cancer may not have any symptoms, or they might be hard to spot, so it is sometimes dubbed the “silent disease”. Nonetheless, there are a few early warning signs to be aware of. It can help to keep a diary of your symptoms to bring to your GP. Having symptoms doesn’t mean you have pancreatic cancer, but if you notice any you should notify your doctor.
Cancer Treatment Centres of America (CTCA) notes that pancreatic cancer “poses a special challenge” and is often referred to as a silent disease, as “it typically doesn’t show any apparent signs and symptoms in its nascent stages”.
Nonetheless, there are possible “early warning signs” such as jaundice or sudden weight loss.
Pancreatic Cancer UK says: “Go to your GP if you have symptoms of pancreatic cancer, you don’t know why you have them, and they last four weeks or more. If you have jaundice, go to your GP straight away.”
Pancreatic cancer can cause jaundice by blocking the bile duct. If you have jaundice, your GP should refer you urgently for a CT scan.
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The charity explains that signs of jaundice include yellow skin and whites of the eyes, dark urine, pale poo and itchy skin.
Pancreatic Cancer UK states: “The pancreas plays an important role in digesting food and controlling your blood sugar level. Pancreatic cancer can affect this, and cause weight loss.”
The NHS notes that other signs are loss of appetite, feeling tired or having no energy or having a high temperature, or feeling hot or shivery.
Other symptoms can affect your digestion, such as feeling or being sick, diarrhoea or constipation, or other changes in your poo, or pain at the top part of your tummy and your back, and symptoms of indigestion, such as feeling bloated.
“You might find you get used to them. But it’s important to be checked by a GP if your symptoms change, get worse, or do not feel normal for you,” it notes.
Many of these symptoms are very common and can be caused by many different conditions, but it is good to get them checked because if they’re caused by cancer, finding it early makes it more treatable.
Pancreatic cancer UK says: “Some people see their GP several times before getting a diagnosis.
“If you have unexplained symptoms that last four weeks or more, go back to your GP until you get a firm diagnosis, or a referral for tests to find out what’s causing them.”
CTCA notes that while less common, developing diabetes may be a sign of pancreatic cancer, especially in patients who are older and have diabetes come on suddenly.
It adds: “Having diabetes also may increase your risk of developing pancreatic cancer.”
If you have type 2 diabetes or have had diabetes for several years, you may be more at risk than those with type 1 diabetes, according to the American Cancer Society.
There are around 10,500 new pancreatic cancer cases in the UK every year, according to Cancer Research UK.
The charity adds that a person’s risk of developing cancer depends on many factors, including age, genetics, and exposure to risk factors, and 31 percent of pancreatic cancer cases in the UK are preventable.
Unfortunately, one in 53 UK males and one in 57 UK females will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in their lifetime.
The NHS notes that anyone can get pancreatic cancer and it is not always clear what causes it.
Nonetheless, “you might be more likely to get it” if you have a history of pancreatic cancer in your family.