Symptoms of pancreatic cancer

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

  • pain or discomfort
  • jaundice
  • weight loss
  • feeling sick.

Pancreatic cancer can also cause other symptoms. These are listed below.

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.

What is pancreatic cancer?

Abdominal surgeon Charles Imber talks about symptoms and treatments for pancreatic cancer in our video.

About our cancer information videos

What is pancreatic cancer?

Abdominal surgeon Charles Imber talks about symptoms and treatments for pancreatic cancer in our video.

About our cancer information videos

Weight loss

This is common and may happen even if you have not changed 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.

Up until about a month before, I thought I was fit and well. I got the first symptoms, which were backache then abdominal pain that got increasingly worse, and pain when I was eating.

Alison

Back to Understanding pancreatic cancer

What is cancer?

There are more than 200 different kinds of cancer, each with its own name and treatment.

What is the pancreas?

The pancreas is part of the digestive system. It is in the upper part of the tummy (abdomen).

Types of pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancers can be described by where they are found in the pancreas or the type of cells they start from.