The symptoms and signs of pancreatic cancer are usually common in both men and women. They are
- A general feeling of being unwell that lasts for more than a week or two and isn't related to an obvious cause, such as having the flu.
- Unspecified abdominal ache may be an early symptom of pancreatic cancer.
- Grayish, light-colored or greasy poop may be another early symptom. The poop may look dark brown. Call the doctor right away if the poop is consistently pale or floats in the toilet.
- All-over itchy skin is an early warning sign of jaundice and pancreatic cancer. As the bilirubin builds up in the skin, it may cause the skin to itch before it even turns yellow.
- Dark-colored urine is a sign of dehydration, but it is also often the very first sign of jaundice that people notice. As the tumor causes less bile to be excreted and bilirubin levels in the blood to increase, the urine becomes dark in color. If increasing water intake doesn't bring the urine to its usual light lemonade shade, it's time to get it checked because jaundice is an early sign of pancreatic cancer.
- As a pancreatic tumor grows, it puts pressure on the lower spine and back muscles, causing constant, dull pain. If the pain is constant (e.g., the pain doesn't disappear after the period is over), consult a doctor.
- Loss of appetite and loss of weight may also be common symptoms in patients suffering from pancreatic cancer.
- Nausea or feeling fullness is another common symptom of pancreatic cancer. As tumors grow in the abdomen, they can put pressure on surrounding organs, including the stomach. This causes nausea and/or the feeling of being full.
- As pancreatic tumors grow larger, they can cause the abdomen to distend. This is one of the first signs women often notice.
- Yellowing of the whites of the eyes and the skin may be a common symptom of pancreatic cancer. The reason is that many pancreatic tumors start at the head of the pancreas, which is near the bile duct. Even small tumors can block and/or put pressure on the bile duct, which carries bile from the liver and gallbladder through the pancreas to the small intestine. Bile removes bilirubin (a normal waste product of red blood cells) and when this function is hampered, the excess bilirubin causes jaundice and yellow eyes. Jaundice could be a sign of pancreatic cancer.
- Unexplained or severe pancreatitis may be caused by a small tumor in the pancreas. Pancreatitis is more commonly caused by gallstones, new medications or alcohol abuse.
- Patients with pancreatic cancer are known to be susceptible to gum disease, cavities and poor oral health, which may be also an indicator of the presence of pancreatic tumors.
- A study found that 40 percent of pancreatic cancer patients were diagnosed with diabetes in the months before their cancer diagnosis. The pancreas is responsible for creating insulin, so the early stages of the tumor may affect the ability of pancreas to produce insulin, causing diabetes.
What are the treatment options for pancreatic cancer?
- Surgery: Surgery to remove pancreatic cancer can be a part of a pancreaticoduodenectomy or Whipple procedure, distal pancreatectomy or total pancreatectomy depending on the location of cancer within the pancreas. The goal of the surgery is to remove all cancer in the pancreas and surrounding tissues.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is a systemic treatment. With this therapy, the drug that is designed to kill cancer cells is dispersed throughout the entire body. Typically, it is administered intravenously. The chemotherapy may be administered before surgery (neoadjuvant therapy), after surgery (adjuvant therapy) or in the case of advanced disease.
- Radiation therapy: Radiation uses high-energy X-rays to destroy cancer cells. Radiation therapy can be used to relieve symptoms (called palliative treatment) of advanced pancreatic cancer. Sometimes chemotherapy will be given concurrently with radiation because the addition of systemic chemotherapy renders cancer cells more susceptible to the killing effects of radiation.
The localized pancreatic cancer is treated with surgery and chemotherapy. The chemotherapy can be given before or after surgery. Advanced pancreatic cancer may not be removable by surgery, so it is treated with chemotherapy and radiation.