Pancreatic Cancer’s Sneaky Symptoms
In a very small number of people with pancreatic cancer, early symptoms might be present that could lead to an earlier diagnosis. Unfortunately, researchers have been unable to identify any predictable pattern.
The rarity and vagueness of these situations point out the difficulty of using early symptoms to catch pancreatic cancer.
That said, symptoms like unintentional weight loss, persistent loss of appetite, yellowing of the eyes or skin, dark urine, or light-colored stools should always prompt concern. Persistent or worsening discomfort, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea are also disconcerting. If you feel something’s not right, see your doctor.
How Can I Prevent Pancreatic Cancer
We dont know what actually causes pancreatic cancer, so its difficult to know how to prevent it. However, you can change your day-to-day behaviors to become healthier. These tips may help reduce the risk of getting pancreatic cancer:
- Dont smoke. If you do smoke or use tobacco in any form, try to quit.
- Try to reach and maintain a normal weight by eating healthy and exercising.
- Drink alcohol in moderation, or quit drinking altogether.
- Try to avoid getting diabetes. If you have it, control your blood sugar levels.
- Use safety equipment if your work exposes you to toxins.
Unusual Pancreatic Cancer Symptom
One unusual symptom reported by the British Medical Journal a sensation felt under the ribs. This is due to the location of the pancreas, behind the stomach where the rib meets the breastbone.
In the BMJ, the experiences of a patient called Rachel were discussed. It said: Two years before her pancreatic cancer was diagnosed, Rachel consulted her doctor about a pain under her left rib, which she suspected was a pulled muscle after doing heavy gardening work.
The pain continued to worsen and four months after it first occurred, Rachel once again returned to the GP.
This time, after another careful examination that included being prodded everywhere and having her heart and lungs listened to, the GP concluded she should be referred to a heart specialist. This had no effect.
Rachels GP then sent her to see a hospital specialist who did an endoscopy and a scan but didnt suspect cancer.
He at first interpreted the images as suggesting a hiatus hernia but after reviewing the scan results decided that she had cancer in the middle of her pancreas and secondary in her liver.
According to Health Talk, other people with the conditions have reported a fluttering, feeling while elsewhere a pulsating sensation under the rib has been reported.
One of the reasons that pancreatic cancer can be so dangerous is because no two cases of it are the same genetically.
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Pain In The Stomach Area Or Back
Almost 7 out of 10 people with pancreatic cancer go to their doctors because they have pain. Pain is more common in cancers of the body and tail of the pancreas. People describe it as a dull pain that feels as if it is boring into you. It can begin in the stomach area and spread around to the back. The pain is worse when you lie down and is better if you sit forward. It can be worse after meals.
Some people may only have back pain. This is often felt in the middle of the back, and is persistent.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scan
A magnetic resonance imaging scan also produces an image of the inside of your body, but it uses strong magnetic and radio waves instead of X-rays.
MRI scans are carried out in a tube-shaped MRI scanner. It’s a noisy procedure that can feel claustrophobic. It also takes longer than other types of scans.
Like a CT scan, an MRI scan allows your doctor to check for signs of cancer in other parts of the body.
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Symptoms Of Endocrine Pancreatic Tumours
Endocrine pancreatic tumours are uncommon. They are also called neuroendocrine tumours. Most pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours don’t produce hormones so don’t cause specific symptoms.
Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours that produce hormones are called functional tumours. The symptoms are different for each type, depending on the hormone the tumour produces.
Risks And Early Detection Of Pancreatic Cancer
Located deep in your abdomen, your pancreas is responsible for creating and supplying digestive enzymes, insulin and glucagon. Pancreatic cancer forms when cells in the pancreas change and multiply abnormally, forming tumors. Ninety percent of pancreatic cancers arise from the cells that line the pancreatic duct and are known as adenocarcinoma of the pancreas. Other, less common types of pancreatic cancer include adenosquamous carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and Islet cell carcinoma.
Though there are a number of risk factors, including advancing age, smoking, obesity and Type 2 diabetes, certain genetic mutations may also increase your risk. Recent research has shown a link to BRCA mutations, which are commonly associated with breast and ovarian cancers.
Detecting pancreas cancer early is very difficult, but a thorough family medical history can identify family members at risk, says , a medical oncologist and gastrointestinal cancer specialist at Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.
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Elaine Did Not Have Jaundice But She Noticed That She Had Putty
I noticed something odd happening about five months before I actually went to the GP. And it happened about three times that I had, I was getting an increasing amount of sort of wind almost and burping a lot. That was the other thing that was very odd. And my husband said, Thats very odd. And then Id notice a few days later, sometimes I, each, each time I felt a little bit nauseous for a couple of days and then Id pass a very abnormal coloured stool, as if Id got a gallstone or something, if anybody else recognises those symptoms. I wasnt jaundiced, but I just had this very funny stool, which was almost putty coloured. And I thought, Well, that is very odd. Then months, and I hadnt noticed at that time that actually I had been feeling a little bit nauseous before. But the next time it happened when I was a bit nauseous and I think, Well, I wonder if the same thing will happen again? And it did. But that was very near Christmas and I thought, Well, in my experience I know its no good going to ones GP round about Christmas. Ill go straight after Christmas and then things will be looked into properly.
What Questions Should I Ask My Healthcare Provider
Develop an open and cooperative relationship with your healthcare provider. Take a list of questions with you so you remember to get the answers you need to live your best life. These questions might include:
- What stage is the cancer? What does this mean for me?
- What are my treatment options? Which do you recommend and why?
- What side effects might I develop as a result of treatment?
- Is genetic testing right for me?
- Am I able to be a part of a clinical trial?
- Will I be able to keep working and doing the things that I need or want to do every day?
- Are there situations in which I need to call you immediately or get emergency care?
- Can you tell me where to find financial support?
- Can you tell me where to find emotional support?
- What should I do to stay as healthy as I can?
Make sure to follow the plan that you and your provider agree on. Keep to the schedule of follow-up appointments and testing.
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What Are The Stages Of Pancreatic Cancer
Pancreatic cancer is categorized into five different stages. Your diagnosis depends on the size and location of the tumor and whether or not the cancer has spread:
- Stage 0: Also known as carcinoma in situ, Stage 0 is characterized by abnormal cells in the lining of the pancreas. The cells could become cancerous and spread to nearby tissue.
- Stage 1: The tumor is in the pancreas.
- Stage 2: The tumor is in the pancreas and has either spread to nearby tissues, organs or lymph nodes.
- Stage 3: The cancer has spread to major blood vessels near the pancreas. It may have also spread to nearby lymph nodes.
- Stage 4: In stage 4 pancreatic cancer, the cancer has spread to distant areas in the body, such as the liver, lungs or abdominal cavity. It has possibly spread to organs, tissues or lymph nodes near the pancreas.
Be sure to talk with your provider about your situation. Understanding your pancreatic cancer prognosis can help you make an informed decision about your treatment.
Upper Or Middle Belly/back Pain
Abdominal pain is a common symptom of pancreatic cancer, as tumors that have grown fairly large start pressing on adjacent organs, causing discomfort and pain.
Its also common for these cancers to cause pain in the patients back, usually as a result of spreading to nerves surrounding the pancreas.
However, back and belly pain may also indicate other conditions besides pancreatic cancer, so its important to speak with your doctor if youre experiencing pain.
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Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms And Signs
Pancreatic cancer in the early stages typically causes vague nonspecific symptoms. These symptoms and signs may include poor appetite, weight loss, abdominal or back pain, jaundice with or without itching, fatigue, nausea, and sometimes even depression. The general nature of these symptoms make the diagnosis of early pancreatic cancer is very difficult. Proceeding to a medical evaluation often requires a high index of suspicion by the patient or by medical personnel who are experienced with the presentation of pancreatic cancer.
Keep Track Of Your Pain
Document your pain when it occurs using a journal. This will make it easier for your doctor to understand what is causing the pain.
Write in your journal:
- Where you feel the pain
- How it feels
- How strong it is on a 1 to 10 scale
- How often the pain happens
- How often the pain lasts
- What time of day it happens
- If eating causes pain
- What makes your pain feel better or worse
Doctors can use this information to develop a successful pain management plan, which may include some of the following approaches.
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What Is Pancreatic Cancer
The word cancer means an uncontrolled and unregulated growth of cells. When cancer starts in the pancreas, it is called pancreatic cancer. The pancreas is an organ located in the upper left abdomen, behind the stomach. This organ serves several important functions, particularly regulating digestion and blood sugar levels. The pancreas has four main parts: head, neck, body and tail. Almost 75 percent of all pancreatic cancers occur within the head or neck of the pancreas, 15 to 20 percent occur in the body of the pancreas and 5 to 10 percent occur in the tail. When cancer develops in the pancreas, the rapidly-dividing cancer cells form a mass or tumor that can spread to other sites in the body. The cancerous mass deprives the normal cells of nutrition and space, causing a disturbance in the functioning of the pancreas.
According to the American Cancer Society, about 60,430 people in the US will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2021. Also, pancreatic cancer will cause about 48,220 deaths in the US in 2021.
Pancreatic Cancer Pain Management
Comprehensive Pain Assessment
Your physician will conduct a comprehensive pain assessment to determine:
- When the pain started
- Where the pain is located
- How intense the pain is
- How various cancer treatments have impacted your pain level
Following the assessment, your doctor will help devise a treatment plan designed to maximize your comfort.
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What Are The Types Of Pancreatic Cancer
There are two types of pancreatic cancer.
Exocrine pancreatic cancer
It develops in the exocrine cells of the pancreas, which secrete pancreatic enzymes that aid digestion. It is the most common type of pancreatic cancer and affects the exocrine functions of the pancreas.
Different types of exocrine pancreatic cancer include
- Adenocarcinoma, which typically starts in the gland cells in the ducts of the pancreas
- Acinar cell carcinoma, which starts in the pancreatic enzyme cells
- Ampullary cancer, which starts where the bile duct and pancreatic duct meet the duodenum of the small intestine
- Adenosquamous carcinoma
- Squamous cell carcinoma
- Giant cell carcinoma
- Rare exocrine pancreatic tumor
Endocrine pancreatic cancer
It is also called pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors or islet cell tumors. It develops in the endocrine cells of the pancreas that produce hormones that regulate metabolism and blood sugar. It is less common and affects the endocrine functions of the pancreas.
Endocrine pancreatic cancer is named after the hormone-producing cell where cancer begins.
Types of endocrine tumor include
Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms Affecting The Whole Body
The pancreas is an abdominal organ with three parts , located adjacent to the stomach. It has two functions: it secretes hormones that help regulate sugar levels in our blood, and it secretes enzymes into the intestines to help break down fatty food so our bodies can use the nutrients.
Clearly, those two functions are vital to good health. Unfortunately, some of the signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer are rather insidious and usually quite vague, which can make it hard to detect pancreatic cancer early on.
Consider these general symptoms, which can arise from pancreatic cancer in the body or tail of the pancreas:
- Vague abdominal pain as the cancer grows and presses on nearby organs
- Vague middle back pain as the cancer spreads to nerves surrounding the pancreas
- Unexplained weight loss
These general symptoms could be caused by any number of things and are usually not due to pancreatic cancer. But they warrant prompt attention from you and your physician because pancreatic cancer is a fast-moving, aggressive disease.
Tumors that start in the body or tail of the pancreas tend to be found later than those originating in the head of the pancreas. As a result, they tend to be much larger when finally discovered.
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Diabetes And Pancreatic Cancer
While less common, developing diabetes may be a sign of pancreatic cancer, especially in patients who are older and have diabetes come on suddenly.
Sometimes, pancreatic cancer may damage the cells in your pancreas that help produce insulin , leading to high blood sugar and diabetes.
The cancer may not always alter blood sugar levels enough to show signs of diabetes, but if it does, symptoms may include increased thirst, hunger and urination.
What Are The Other Signs And Symptoms Of Pancreatic Cancer
The signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer may also be found in other conditions of the digestive system. These include
- Yellowish discoloration of the skin and eyes
Unusual signs include
- Fatigue: fatigue is a common symptom found in other types of cancer as well.
- The new and unusual onset of diabetes: Pancreatic cancers may destroy the insulin-producing cells. This can increase your blood sugar levels and lead to newly diagnosed diabetes. If you already suffer from diabetes which is under control, you may suddenly develop an uncontrolled form of diabetes.
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Surgical Procedures And Radiation Therapy
There are some surgical procedures that may diminish the pain of pancreatic cancer patients. These may be performed in conjunction with surgery or separately.
- Alcohol nerve block: Surgeons inject a local anesthetic into the roots of nerves that carry pain signals from the damaged pancreas to the brain. This procedure, performed in an outpatient setting, provides pain relief for up to three or four months as it numbs the nerves.
- Thoracoscopic splanchnicectomy: This minimally invasive procedure cuts specific nerve branches.
- Endoscopic ultrasound-guided celiac plexus nerve block: Using this technique, the physician uses a thin, lighted tube called an endoscope to look into the stomach and then place a needle through the stomach to inject an anesthetic into the nerves that transmit pain from the pancreas to the brain.
Another modality to assist with pain management is external beam radiation therapy. During this treatment, a radiation beam is directed at the tumor and may provide rapid-onset pain relief.
Causes Of Pancreatic Cancer Pain
It’s common to have a dull pain in your upper belly and back that comes and goes. This is caused by a tumor in your pancreas that presses on your spine.
The cancer often spreads to the nerves that surround your pancreas, which also leads to back pain. It can feel worse when you lie down, but it may get better when you lean forward.
One good strategy to manage your pain is to keep track of it with a journal. Write down where it hurts and how it feels. For example, note things about your pain such as:
- How it feels, like throbbing or dull
- Intensity on a scale of 1 to 10
- How often you get it
- Time of day it happens
- Better or worse when you eat or drink
- What makes it improve
This information will help your doctor understand the cause and figure out how to treat it.
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How Do I Know If I Have This
Back pain is experienced by people in the population and having mid-back pain does not mean you have pancreatic cancer. However, if you are experiencing mid back pain that is not normal for you, there is no harm in checking with your GP especially if you are experiencing any of the other symptoms described here.