What are the symptoms of pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer may not cause symptoms for a long time. Some people may have only one symptom.

Pain or discomfort

This often begins in the upper part of the tummy (abdomen). Sometimes it spreads to the back. The pain may come and go, or it may be there all the time. It may feel worse after eating or when you are lying down. It might feel better when you are sitting up or bending forward.

Remember, cancer is not the cause of most pain in the abdomen. But you should see your doctor if you are worried.

Jaundice

If the cancer is in the head of the pancreas, it can block the bile duct. This means you may develop jaundice. Cancer in the tail or body of the pancreas is less likely to cause jaundice.

Jaundice happens when bile cannot drain away, but collects in your body. This can cause symptoms such as:

  • yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes
  • itchy skin
  • dark yellow pee (urine)
  • pale and smelly poo (stools) that is difficult to flush away (steatorrhoea).

Pancreatic cancer is not the most common cause of jaundice. Other illnesses, affecting the liver and bile duct, are more common causes. 

Weight loss

This is common and may happen without any explanation, such as making changes to what you eat.

Feeling sick

You may feel sick or be sick if you have jaundice, or if the pancreas is inflamed and swollen.

Other symptoms

Pancreatic cancer can cause other symptoms, such as:

  • losing your appetite
  • having indigestion
  • feeling bloated after meals
  • having diarrhoea or changing bowel habits
  • feeling very tired
  • being newly diagnosed with diabetes
  • getting a blood clot in the leg (deep vein thrombosis or DVT) or the lungs (pulmonary embolus).

Most people with these symptoms will not have pancreatic cancer. More common conditions can be causing them. But if you have any symptoms, it is important to get them checked by your doctor.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our pancreatic cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    British Society of Gastroenterology. Guidelines for the management of patients with pancreatic cancer peri-ampullary and ampullary carcinomas. 2005.

    European Society for Medial Oncology. Cancer of the pancreas: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Annals of Oncology, 2015. 26 (Supplement 5): v56 to v68.

    Fernandez-del Castillo. Clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and staging of exocrine pancreatic cancer. UpToDate online. Jan 2018.

    Fernandez-del Castillo C, et al. Supportive care of the patient with locally advanced or metastatic exocrine pancreatic cancer. UpToDate online. Feb 2017. 

    Winter JM, et al. Cancer of the pancreas, DeVita Hellman and Rosenberg’s Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology (10th edition). Lippincott Williams and Wilkins. 2016.


  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Professor Tim Iveson, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

How we can help

Macmillan Cancer Support Line
The Macmillan Support Line offers confidential support to people living with cancer and their loved ones. If you need to talk, we'll listen.
0808 808 00 00
7 days a week, 8am - 8pm
Email us
Get in touch via this form
Chat online
7 days a week, 8am - 8pm
Online Community
An anonymous network of people affected by cancer which is free to join. Share experiences, ask questions and talk to people who understand.
Help in your area
What's going on near you? Find out about support groups, where to get information and how to get involved with Macmillan where you live.