Signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer
Pancreatic cancer may not cause symptoms for a long time. Some people may have only one symptom.
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, even if you have pain in the abdomen, it does not mean you will have cancer. But you should see your doctor if you are worried.
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 and collects in your body. This can cause symptoms such as:
- yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes
- itchy skin
- dark 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.
Pancreatic cancer can cause other symptoms, such as:
- losing your appetite
- feeling bloated after meals
- diarrhoea or changing bowel habits
- feeling very tired
- being newly diagnosed with diabetes
- blood clots in the leg (deep vein thrombosis or DVT) or the lungs (pulmonary embolus or PE).
Most people with these symptoms will not have pancreatic cancer. More common conditions can cause them. But if you have any symptoms, it is important to get them checked by your doctor.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
European Society for Medical Oncology, Cancer of the pancreas: ESMO clinical Practice Guidelines. Volume 26, Supplement 5, V56-V68, 1 September 2015. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1093/annonc/mdv295 (accessed May 2021).
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Pancreatic cancer in adults: diagnosis and management. NICE guideline (NG85). Published 7 February 2018. Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng85/chapter/Recommendations (accessed May 2021).
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 Chief Medical Editor, Professor Tim Iveson, Consultant Medical Oncologist.
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