Learn About Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms & Causes

Learn About Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms & Causes
25 Feb 2022
8 mins
Table Of Content
Learn About Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms & Causes

    Worldwide, pancreatic cancer is the twelfth most common cancer and the seventh leading cause of cancer death. The pancreas is an organ that lies behind the stomach and looks like fish with a wide head and pointed tail. It produces hormones and enzymes that help manage blood sugar levels and digestion. Uncontrolled cell growth found anywhere in the pancreas is pancreatic cancer. 


    Most pancreatic cancers are pancreatic adenocarcinomas, cancer that begins in the cells lining the ducts of the pancreas. Let’s talk about the pancreatic cancer causes and symptoms in detail.

    What Are Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms?


    Generally, pancreatic cancer is a silent disease that doesn’t cause any symptoms in the early stages. The symptoms usually show up when cancer has become large and affects other organs. Many of these symptoms can be caused by other disease conditions, such as pancreatitis, irritable bowel syndrome, etc.


    • Upper abdominal pain, which might spread to the back: It is one of the common pancreatic cancer symptoms. As the tumour present in the pancreas grows, it presses on the spine causing abdominal pain. When cancer spreads to the surrounding nerves of the pancreas, it can cause back pain. Most people experience upper abdominal pain that radiates into the back, which can worsen if they lie down.
    • Dark urine: Cancer that occurs in the head of the pancreas can block the bile duct and cause jaundice. When the bile duct is blocked, the dark yellow-brown substance called bilirubin builds up in the body. Dark urine is the initial sign of jaundice caused by high bilirubin levels in the blood.
    • Itchy skin: Obstruction of bile duct leads to the accumulation of bilirubin in the skin that  causes itching.
    • Pale, greasy stools which float in the toilet: When the bile duct is blocked, the liquid bile that assists in breaking down fats cannot reach intestines and stools become greasy and may float in the toilet. Usually, the bilirubin gives stools their brown colour, and the bile duct blockage makes the stools light-coloured.
    • Yellowing of the skin and eyes: The whites of the eyes and your skin turn yellow, including inner lips and gums. These pancreatic cancer symptoms also happen due to the build-up of bilirubin caused by jaundice.
    • Weight loss: Unexplained weight loss is one of the common pancreatic cancer symptoms. The pancreas may not produce sufficient digestive juices, so the body cannot properly metabolise the food's nutrients, leading to poor or no appetite resulting in weight loss.
    • New or worsening diabetes: This cancer may damage the cells involved in the production of a hormone called insulin, that controls the blood sugar levels. It can lead to diabetes. People may feel hungry and thirsty and tend to urinate often. Commonly, pancreatic cancer causes minor changes in the blood sugar levels, which don’t cause any symptoms.
    • Nausea, vomiting: When a tumour presses the stomach or other digestive system parts, it can make it hard to pass food and cause nausea and vomiting. The other gastrointestinal pancreatic cancer symptoms which may occur are indigestion, bloating, and loss of appetite. Symptoms can worsen after eating.
    • Blood clots: Blood clots may occur in the body, often in the leg veins. People may experience swelling, pain, warmth, and redness in the affected leg. Chest pain and breathing difficulties may occur if the clot affects the lungs.


    The other pancreatic cancer symptoms which can occur are extreme tiredness and high body temperature.

    What Causes Pancreatic Cancer?


    Researchers still don’t know what exactly causes pancreatic cancer. There are certain risk factors which raise the chance of developing pancreatic cancer. 


    • Age and gender: Most people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are older than 65, and it occurs more commonly in men than women.
    • Smoking and alcohol: People who smoke cigarettes or use any other forms of tobacco are twice as likely to be affected by pancreatic cancers than non-smokers. Heavy drinking can also increase the cancer risk by causing repeated inflammation of the pancreas.
    • Family history of pancreatic cancer and hereditary syndromes: You are at risk if two or more first-degree relatives (siblings, parents, and children) have been diagnosed with this cancer. Cancer occurs due to changes in the genetic material inside our cells. Some gene changes (mutations) can be passed from parents to children. These changes can result in genetic syndromes that increase the risk of pancreatic cancer and other health conditions. Examples of syndromes that raise this cancer risk are Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome, Lynch syndrome and familial atypical mole melanoma syndrome. Gene-changes may account for 10% of cancer cases.
    • Exposure to chemicals: Being exposed to chemicals in the dry cleaning and metalworking industries, pesticides, petrochemicals, and certain dyes can increase the risk of pancreatic cancer.
    • Obesity and diet: Obesity increases the risk of developing pancreatic cancer by 20%. Belly fat may also increase the risk even if the person is at a normal healthy weight. Excessive consumption of processed meats, red meats and foods high in fat may increase the cancer risk. Learn about other cancer risks of obesity.
    • Diabetes: Having type 2 diabetes for longer periods and sudden development of diabetes at an older age may raise the risk of pancreatic cancer.
    • Pancreatitis: Pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas. Long-term inflammation can cause genetic damage and abnormal growth of pancreas cells. Usually, it happens after many years of chronic inflammation.

    Reduce The Cancer Risk:


    If pancreatic cancers are caught early, they are potentially curable. Unfortunately, around 80 of the cases are diagnosed at advanced stages where the symptoms show up. Advanced stages are difficult to treat and have lower survival rates. 


    Healthy weight management, limited consumption of processed foods, staying away from drinking and smoking and other healthy lifestyle habits can lower the risk of pancreatic cancer as well as some pancreatic cancer risk factors such as obesity and pancreatitis. Learn more about cancer reducing foods to include in your daily diet.

    Written by
    GuruvigneshwariContent Writer
    AboutM.Pharmacy (Pharmacognosy)
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