7 Early Warning Signs of Pancreatic Cancer

When it comes to revealing cancer signs, pancreatic cancer presents a major challenge and is referred to as a silent condition. Because in the early stages it usually shows no obvious signs and symptoms. Health care providers cannot detect an early pancreatic tumor during a regular physical.

The pancreas is located deep behind the stomach in the upper left abdomen. The gallbladder, liver, and spleen surround the pancreas. So if cancer develops in the pancreas, one may not notice it until it has grown too large. By the time symptoms set in, the tumor would have spread outside of the pancreas to other parts of the body.
pancreatic cancer

In other types of cancer, such as breast or colon cancer, patients undergo routine screenings, including mammograms and colonoscopies, whether or not they show symptoms. But these diagnostic tests are not available for pancreatic cancer. Also, when symptoms appear, they can easily be confused with other diseases. Other common health conditions such as ulcers and pancreatitis have similar symptoms.

The symptoms of pancreatic cancer are the same for men and women. Having one or more symptoms does not mean you have pancreatic cancer, but if you notice any of the symptoms below and especially more than one, seek medical advice immediately.

Also read: Pancreatic Cancer: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Pancreatic Cancer Warning Signs

The symptoms of pancreatic cancer first appear as jaundice or yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes, which is caused by large amounts of bilirubin enzyme secreted by the liver. Sudden weight loss is also a common warning sign of pancreatic cancer.

Other signs include:

  • dark colored urine
  • Light-colored stools
  • Itchy Skin
  • Fatigue
  • Digestive problems such as abnormal stools, nausea or vomiting
  • Pain in the upper abdomen
  • little appetite
  • Swollen Gallbladder
  • Blood clots
  • diabetes mellitus

Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms


While jaundice is not commonly caused by pancreatic cancer, it is generally one of the early symptoms of pancreatic cancer and is always experienced by pancreatic cancer patients. The liver produces bile, which contains bilirubin, and during the digestion process, bile travels through the common bile duct to the intestines to aid in the breakdown of fats, which are then excreted in the stool.

Also read: Jaundice In Adults: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

But if the bile duct is blocked by a tumor that starts in the head of the pancreas, bilirubin can build up and cause jaundice. In some cases, even small cancers can press on the duct, allowing the health care professional to detect cancer at an early stage. However, cancers that originate in the body or tail of the pancreas do not begin to press on the duct until it has spread through the pancreas and sometimes to other vital organs, mainly the liver, which also worsens jaundice.

Back/abdominal pain

Abdominal pain is a classic symptom of pancreatic cancer, as any cancer cells that have grown large begin to press on nearby organs, causing discomfort and pain. The pain also radiates to the back, due to spreading to nerves around the pancreas.

However, back and abdominal pain can also pose problems other than pancreatic cancer, so it’s vital to talk to your doctor if you experience pain frequently.

Nausea and vomiting

When tumors have spread to the end of the stomach, it can partially impede the normal flow of food through the digestive system. This can lead to nausea, vomiting and severe pain after eating.

Gallbladder or liver swelling

When a cancerous tumor blocks the bile ducts, the gallbladder can fill with high levels of bile and enlarge. In such cases, the doctor may be able to find the swelling (below the right rib cage) during a regular physical exam. These tumors are also visible in imaging tests such as computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Furthermore, the liver may also swell, especially if cancer has spread and this can also be identified through imaging.

Weight loss and poor appetite

Sudden weight loss is very common in people with pancreatic cancer and these people usually have a poor or no appetite.

Blood clots

Sometimes the first sign that a person has pancreatic cancer is a blood clot in a large vein, usually the leg, and this is called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Symptoms include pain, swelling, redness, and warmth in the affected leg. Sometimes a clot can break off and travel to the lungs, making it difficult to breathe or causing chest pain. A blood clot in the lung is medically termed as pulmonary embolism.

Still, having a blood clot usually doesn’t mean you have cancer, as most blood clots are caused by other factors.

diabetes mellitus

In rare cases, pancreatic cancers can cause diabetes because they destroy the insulin-producing cells. Most of the time, cancer can result in some changes in blood glucose levels, which don’t cause symptoms of diabetes, but can still be identified with blood tests.