Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer

In the early stages, exocrine pancreatic cancers often do not present with symptoms; when symptoms do appear, it usually is after the cancer has already spread to other parts of the body. The most common first symptom of pancreatic cancer is jaundice — yellowing of the eyes and skin – due to a blockage of the bile system from the cancer. Other symptoms can include stomach or back pain, weight loss, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, enlargement of the gallbladder and liver, blood clots, and newly diagnosed diabetes.

With NETs, the tumors often release excess hormones into the bloodstream that may cause their own symptoms.

  • Gastrinomas: Diarrhea and weight loss.
  • Glucagonomas: Most often, a rash called necrolytic migratory erythema.
  • Insulinomas: Weakness, confusion, sweating, rapid heartbeat.
  • Somatostatinoma: Stomach pain, nausea, poor appetite/weight loss, diarrhea, symptoms of diabetes, and jaundice.
  • VIPomas (Verner-Morrison Syndrome): Diarrhea and digestive problems
  • PPomas (Pancreatic Polypeptide): Stomach pain and diarrhea.

Risk Factors for Pancreatic Cancer

Patients can modify some of their risk factors for pancreatic cancer, including smoking, overweight/obesity, and workplace chemical exposure, all of which increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Risk factors for pancreatic cancer that cannot be changed include:

  • Age: The risk of developing pancreatic cancer increases with age.
  • Gender: Men are slightly more likely to develop the disease.
  • Race: African Americans also are somewhat more likely to develop pancreatic cancer.
  • Family history and inherited genetic syndromes: Pancreatic cancer can run in families due to inherited gene mutations.
  • Diabetes: The disease is more common among individuals with diabetes.
  • Chronic pancreatitis: Long-term inflammation of the pancreas can lead to cancer.
  • Cirrhosis: Individuals with long-term scarring of the liver also are at an increased risk for pancreatic cancer.