Symptoms of the disease are vague and go unnoticed easily. Awarness can help you take the right steps and prevent the worse from happening
Known as a silent disease, pancreatic cancer is one of the most difficult to detect of all known cancers. As the symptoms of the fatal disease usually go unnoticed, most people are not treated until it reaches an advanced stage where the cancer has already spread to other parts of your body. Moreover, unlike the cancers of breast, colon, and prostate, people are not tested for it as pancreatic cancer cannot be detected with any kind of screening tests.
According to statistics, pancreatic cancer is said to be the third leading cause of deaths caused by cancer in America even preceding breast cancer. It is predicted that by 2020, pancreatic cancer would become the second leading cause of deaths in the United States. Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research estimated that about 56,770 people would be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2019 in America and reported that more than 45,750 are expected to die from the disease. They also added that almost 91% of pancreatic cancer patients usually die within five years of diagnosis while only 9% survive.
While the word is slowly getting out, household names like Alex Trebek of Jeopardy! fame too is attempting to raise awareness by candidly speaking about his own battle with pancreatic cancer. But how can you tell the symptoms you have are of this particular cancer?
WebMD reports that the location of pancreatic cancer is very important. It is known to grow painlessly in the body at the initial stages. If the tumor appears on the head of the pancreas, the symptoms are said to occur early as compared to it the body and tail of the pancreas. The signs can vary from nausea to abdominal pain and so it is important to be aware of these symptoms to identify the issues at the right time. However, these symptoms can also arise due to other problems, so it is important to not jump to conclusions without consulting a doctor. Here are a few signs that will help to stay in guard:
Patients suffering from pancreatic cancer usually develop jaundice due to the appearance of cancer on top of the pancreas near the bile duct. The tumor grows and presses against the bile duct and leads to jaundice, enabling doctors to detect cancer at the initial stages. However, it is difficult to detect cancer that starts in the body or tail of the pancreas as it does not press against the bile duct. In such patients, jaundice may develop only after it spreads to other parts of the body.
According to the American Cancer Society, one of the first and common symptoms of pancreatic cancer is jaundice. It indicates yellowing of skin and eyes. The condition is caused due to the increase of a dark yellow-brown substance in the body called bilirubin which is part of the bile liquid secreted by the liver. The bile which passes through the common duct into the intestine plays a major role in breaking down the fats in the body. Eventually, the liquid is secreted out of the body along with your stool. However, the cycle is disrupted when the bile duct gets blocked and gives rise to the build-up of bilirubin.
Other symptoms like dark urine, light or greasy stool and itchy yellow skin are also observed. It is important to note that jaundice can be caused due to other diseases like gallstones, hepatitis, and other liver and bile duct-related issues.
Diarrhea can occur in the case of many types of pancreatic cancer. It is said to a sign of an uncommon tumor called VIPoma. The tumor produces a substance known as a vasoactive intestinal peptide which sends excess water to the digestive system leading to severe watery diarrhea.
Pancreatic cancer is known to lower your appetite severely, leading to weight loss. Most people suffer from a complete lack of or very low appetite. However, some people appear to be malnourished even after continuing a normal diet as cancer produces hormones in the body that will make it difficult for the body to obtain nutrients from the food consumed.
This is another common symptom observed in people suffering from pancreatic cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, cancer that starts at body or tail of the pancreas tends to become large and would start to press against other organs of the body causing severe pain. It may also spread to the nerves causing back pain.
This is not a very common symptom. However, some patients with pancreatic cancer experience elevated blood sugar levels. It is often observed as cancer that has affected the pancreas impairs the organ from producing insulin, making you feel thirsty and hungry.
According to Healthline, pancreatic cancer disturbs the entire digestive system and affects the smooth functioning of the body. It can also lead to increased levels of acid in the body. Cancer that spreads from the liver presses against the abdomen, making it hard for food to pass through. This condition may lead to severe stomach aches and nausea. The sickness can often worsen after eating.