If you have indigestion and stomach pain, and maybe you’ve stopped eating and are feeling a little sick, you might think you have a bug in your stomach. And while this is by far the most likely cause, always be aware that these are signs of something much worse – pancreatic cancer, the UK’s fifth largest cancer killer.
Diagnosed in around 10,500 people each year in the UK, the symptoms of the disease can often be mistaken for other, much more benign conditions, and this is why many people do not seek medical attention until their cancer is in an advanced stage. and treatment is much more difficult.
As a result, pancreatic cancer is the deadliest common cancer – Pancreatic Cancer UK (PCUK, pancreaticcancer.org.uk) states that more than half of people who get the disease die within three months of being diagnosed.
PCUK specialist nurse Jeni Jones says: “The vast majority of cases are diagnosed when the cancer is already at a late stage, because the symptoms often overlap with other conditions such as indigestion and irritable bowel syndrome. If you have persistent symptoms, you should speak to a family doctor – this could mean it was diagnosed early. “
Here are some of the symptoms that might be easy to ignore as something less serious…
Indigestion and/or heartburn can be a common symptom of pancreatic cancer – but a symptom that most people wouldn’t think is linked to a serious illness.
“Often times people can take over-the-counter medications for persistent indigestion—it’s not something that will automatically make you rush to the GP,” says Jones. “But there may be times when a few annoying things happen with other symptoms, such as pain in your stomach or back, and which may indicate pancreatic cancer.”
2. Abdominal or back pain
This can be anything from a dull ache to pain radiating from your stomach to your back, explains Jones. “It might be around the bra line if you’re a woman,” she says. “It’s not low back pain and it’s usually between the shoulder blades. It can get worse after eating something and it doesn’t go away easily.”
He says combined abdominal and back pain is a fairly common symptom, but some people may only have one or the other.
3. Unexplained weight loss
Weight loss due to pancreatic cancer can initially be seen when people are not really trying to lose weight and eat relatively normal food. “They may notice that their clothes are getting loose,” Jones says.
4. Loss of appetite
Losing weight is sometimes associated, at least initially, with a loss of appetite, another symptom of pancreatic cancer that is easily overlooked. “It can range from people thinking they’re not really that hungry, to having no appetite and being unable to face food, or feeling full after eating very little,” says Jones. the tumor is pressing on the stomach or simply reducing its capacity to eat.
Jaundice is a symptom of pancreatic cancer that is less easy to ignore, but it tends to occur only in people whose tumor is toward the head of the pancreas, Jones explains. “Although it is very common, not everyone with pancreatic cancer will get jaundice,” he says. “It’s a red flag symptom – you may notice it when the whites of your eyes turn a little yellow, before your skin starts to take on that yellow hue.”
Before you develop jaundice, your skin can become incredibly itchy because bile salts build up under the skin first. “It itches insanely,” Jones emphasizes. “I’m not talking about a little itch, it’ll make you itch wildly.”
7. Changes in bowel habits
“This is a very, very important problem,” Jones emphasizes, “because there are many causes of diarrhea, but it’s something we call steatorrhea — when there is fat in the stool, it causes the stool to turn a yellowish color. It happens in jaundice, too. This greasy, yellowish poop that doesn’t go away is a sure sign of something higher up in the digestive tract.
“If the patient does not describe the features of their diarrhea, time can be spent on diagnosis, and time is of the essence.”
8. Recently diagnosed diabetes
Jones warns that a very small number of people who are recently diagnosed with diabetes may have pancreatic cancer, because the cancer can stop the pancreas from producing enough insulin to lead to diabetes. She explains: “If you have some of the symptoms of pancreatic cancer and you are suddenly diagnosed with diabetes, that should be a red flag symptom for your GP to consider if you need a scan to check your pancreas.”
Feeling or being sick can be another sign of pancreatic cancer, but she emphasizes: “People can vomit sometimes, but that’s not as common as feeling sick.”
10. Blood clots
Jones says that blood clots are a rare symptom of pancreatic cancer and can occur, for example, in people who are younger and do not smoke and therefore are not typically at risk for clots.
“They may present with shortness of breath or a swollen leg and go for a scan and find out they have pancreatic cancer,” she says. “It is an exception, but clots are a symptom and can lead to the fact that there is an underlying problem.”
Of course, many things can cause fatigue, but if you have other symptoms, it could be linked to pancreatic cancer, Jones warns. “If you rest and can’t recharge your batteries, this could be another symptom of pancreatic cancer, combined with ongoing pain or some other symptoms that physically drain a person, such as steatorrhea.”
12. Fever, chills and feeling unwell
Such symptoms are rare pancreatic cancer symptoms, but not unheard of, and may be linked to the cancer itself or possibly an infection linked to jaundice, says Jones, who will need immediate medical attention.
13. Difficulty swallowing food
Explaining pancreatic cancer, Jones says, “Cancer can make a person feel full, so they are often unable to fit food into it, even though they think the problem is with swallowing.” it doesn’t actually cause problems with the esophagus, it can just make swallowing feel abnormal.
14. Depression and anxiety
Jones says that depression and anxiety with no obvious cause are a common symptom of pancreatic cancer. “In and of itself, it’s not something that would make you say you probably have pancreatic cancer,” he says, “but low mood can go hand in hand with pain and fatigue. Again, it takes them as a whole, not alone.”