Thursday, August 18, 2011

Common and Rare Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms based on Location

Initially, pancreatic cancer tends to be silent and painless as it grows. By the time it's large enough to cause symptoms, pancreatic cancer has generally grown outside the pancreas. At this point, symptoms depend on the cancer's location within the pancreas:
  • Pancreatic cancer in the head of the pancreas tends to cause symptoms such as weight loss, jaundice (yellow skin), and fat in the stool, with or without abdominal pain.
  • Pancreatic cancer in the body or tail of the pancreas usually causes belly pain and weight loss.

In general, symptoms appear earlier from pancreatic cancers in the head of the pancreas, compared to those in the body and tail.

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Gastrointestinal Symptoms

Because pancreatic cancer grows around important areas of the digestive system, gastrointestinal symptoms often predominate:
  • Abdominal pain. About seven out of ten people (other sources report actually on greater than eight tenth of individuals) having cancer of the pancreas, sooner or later experience certain stomach pain because the tumor increases, and so they decide to visit to their doctors. Ache is more standard in cancers of the body and tail of the pancreas. In the upper abdomen, dull pain caused by pancreatic cancer, may occasionally occur. People describe as such pain feels as if it is boring into a person in the upper belly, and pains may spread over to the backside. The pain is worse when you lie down and gets better when you sit forward. It could be worse soon after eating (about 3 to 4 hours after taking food). Ones abdomen might also be generally sensitive or sore if your liver, pancreas or gallbladder happens to be inflamed or become bigger. The pain may come and go sporadically.
  • Bloating. Bloating is a condition in which the abdomen (belly) feels full and tight. The abdomen may be visibly swollen. Some people with pancreatic cancer have a sense of early fullness with meals.

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  • Nausea/Vomiting. Another vague symptom that is common among many other conditions, as well as pancreatic cancer. Non-specific symptoms, like nausea, often result in a delay in a pancreatic cancer diagnosis.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Loss of Appetite. Appetite loss is a symptom of hundreds of diseases and conditions, including pancreatic cancer. It can signal something severe or even be related to something as small as a stomach virus. When symptoms are vague like this, medical tests are necessary to make an accurate diagnosis.
  • Fat in the stool (steatorrhea). As pancreatic cancer reduces the pancreas' ability to secrete fat-digesting enzymes, more fat ends up in the stool. The amount of fat in human excreta increases significantly. These fatty stools can be strange-smelling, and because of the fat, float more than normal.  
  • Pale-colored stools. If the duct draining bile into the intestine is blocked by pancreatic cancer, the stools may lose their brown color and become pale or clay-colored.
  • Changes in urine color. Urine may become much darker.

Constitutional (Whole-Body) Symptoms

As it grows and spreads, pancreatic cancer affects the whole body. Constitutional symptoms can include:
  • Blood clots. Studies have indicated a pancreatic polypeptide is frequently secreted by pancreatic endocrine tumors and is considered a sign for such tumors. Blood clots are strongly linked with pancreatic cancer and can be the initial symptom of the disease.
  • Unintended Weight Loss. While losing weight without trying may be welcomed by many, it can indicate something is wrong. It is one of the first symptoms a person usually notices, along with abdominal pain. The substantial weight reduction is considered as patients drop no less than 10% of their own entire body weight for no apparent justification. Weight reduction is typical to almost all types of cancer. The cancer cells are competing with healthy tissue for nutrients. Furthermore, cancer of the pancreas usually obstructs digestion which further leads to weight loss.
  • Malaise. Malaise is a sensation of general discomfort or uneasiness, of being “out of sorts”, often the earliest sign of an infection or other disease. Malaise is often explained in medical research as a “overall feeling of being not well”.
  • Elevated blood sugars. Raised level of sugar in body is one of the most common symptoms of pancreatic cancer. Many patients with pancreatic cancer are also diagnosed for diabetes. Cancer does undermine the ability of the pancreas to produce insulin. On the other hand, the majority of individuals, with recent diagnose of diabetes, don’t have pancreatic melanoma. Some individuals identified as having cancer of the pancreas are discovered to be newly diabetic. Some have been diagnosed with diabetes within the previous 12 months. If you have diabetic issues you aren’t producing enough blood insulin. Therefore there is excessive sugar in your bloodstream. The sugar is transferred from the human body within the urine and takes a lot of water with it. This will cause thirst, passing lots of urine, weakness, weight loss and hunger. It is important to remember that most people develop diabetes because of reasons unrelated to pancreatic cancer.
  • Fever and shivering. You may have a temperature every now and then because you have jaundice or an enlarged pancreas. Once your temperature is elevated you could feel chilly and shivery.

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Skin Symptoms

  • Jaundice. As pancreatic cancer blocks the duct that releases bile into the intestine (common bile duct), the ingredients of bile build up in the blood. Increased level of bilirubin causes the skin and the eyes to turn yellow, a condition called jaundice. This can occur usually when a tumor completely or partially blocks bile ducts of the liver, slowing the flow of bile.

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  • Itchy Skin. Itchy skin is a less common symptom experienced by people with pancreatic cancer. Again, it's a vague symptom, but when coupled with another symptom like abdominal pain or jaundice, it can be significant in making a more accurate and timely diagnosis. Unfortunately, when someone with undiagnosed pancreatic cancer is experiencing itchy skin, it is often misdiagnosed as a dermatological condition. Blockage of the bile ducts is often responsible for this condition.

Psychological Symptoms

  • Fatigue. You may also have less energy if you have pancreatic cancer. This symptom by itself definitely will not lead to the pancreatic cancer diagnoses, and might be considered in combination with other symptoms.
  • Depression.

Rare Pancreatic Cancers Symptoms

Islet cell tumors, also called neuroendocrine tumors, arise from the cells in the pancreas that make hormones. These may be malignant (cancer) or benign (not cancer). Islet cell tumors are quite rare.

Like pancreatic adenocarcinoma, islet cell pancreatic cancer can cause abdominal pain, weight loss, nausea, and vomiting. Either benign or malignant islet cell tumors can produce excess amounts of hormones. Hormones released by an islet cell tumor can also cause symptoms:
  • Insulinomas (excess insulin): sweating, anxiety, lightheadedness, and fainting from low blood sugar.
  • Glucagonomas (excess glucagon): diarrhea, excessive thirst or urination, weight loss.
  • Gastrinomas (excess gastrin): abdominal pain, nonhealing stomach ulcers, reflux, weight loss.
  • Somatostatinomas (excess somatostatin): weight loss, abdominal pain, foul-smelling fatty stools.
  • VIPomas (excess vasoactive intestinal peptide): abdominal cramping, watery diarrhea, facial flushing.

Pancreatic Cancer's Sneaky Symptoms

In a very small number of people with pancreatic cancer, early symptoms might be present that could lead to earlier diagnosis. Unfortunately, researchers have been unable to identify any predictable pattern. One study that surveyed 305 people with pancreatic cancer illustrated the challenge:
  • About 4% reported having a sudden disgust for preferred tastes (like coffee, smoking, or wine) that preceded other symptoms by more than six months.
  • 5% of people had loss of appetite, a feeling of early fullness with meals, or profound weakness, more than six months before more obvious symptoms developed.
  • 1% of people had attacks of acute pancreatitis more than six months before their diagnosis with pancreatic cancer.

The rarity of these situations points out the difficulty of using early symptoms to catch pancreatic cancer at a curable stage.

That said, symptoms like weight loss, persistent loss of appetite, or light-colored stools should always prompt concern. Consistent or worsening discomfort, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea are also worrisome. If you feel something's not right, see your doctor.

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