5 warning signs of pancreatic cancer

April 14, 2018

The disease is very difficult to detect, but sometimes there are signs

woman looking sadly at bite of food on fork

Although pancreatic cancer can be cured if taken early, the signs are often thin, and the disease is usually not detected until it is in more serious later stages. But there are some warning signs you can pay attention to.

The pancreas has two main functions in the body: producing juices that help to digest food and produce hormones, such as insulin and glucagon, which help control blood sugar levels. Digestive juices are produced by the exocrine pancreatic cells, which is the place where about 95 percent of pancreatic tumors begins. The disease accounts for about 3% of all cancers and about 7% of all cancer deaths, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS), and the risk increases with age. About two-thirds of patients are at least 65 and the average age at diagnosis is 71, according to the ACS.

Only 8.2 percent of pancreatic cancer patients survive for five years, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The pancreas is deep within the body and the first tumors can not be detected by standard physical examinations. People usually do not have symptoms until the cancer has already spread to other organs. Even so, NCI advises people to consult their doctor if they have any of the following symptoms:

Jaundice: this yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes is caused by the accumulation of bilirubin, a dark brown-brown substance produced by the liver. Tumors that start in the pancreas head are close to the common bile duct, according to the ACS. This type of cancer can press on the duct and cause jaundice, which could lead to finding the tumors at an early stage. But the tumors that start in the body or in the tail of the pancreas do not press on the conduit until they have already spread through the pancreas and perhaps beyond. Dark urine can also be a sign of jaundice and bilirubin accumulation can also cause itching on the skin.

Light or fat stools: Bilirubin helps to give the stools their brown color, so when the bile duct is blocked, the stools can be gray or pale. Pancreatic cancer can also make the bowel difficult to help break down fats, so feces can become greasy and float in the toilet.
Belly pain: pain in the abdomen (belly) or in the back is common with pancreatic cancer. “Tumors that start in the body or in the tail of the pancreas can become large enough and start pressing on other nearby organs, causing pain,” says the ACS. “The cancer can also spread to the nerves surrounding the pancreas, which often causes back pain, of course, the pain in the abdomen or back is quite common and is often caused by something other than pancreatic cancer.”
Loss of appetite and weight loss: weight loss and involuntary loss of appetite may be premonitory signs of pancreatic cancer.

Nausea and vomiting: cancer can press on the extremity of the stomach and partially block it, making it difficult to pass food. This could cause nausea, vomiting and pain after eating.

A more detailed list of symptoms is available from ACS.

While some risk factors for pancreatic cancer can not be controlled, such as age or genetics, there are steps to reduce risk.
Stop smoking. About 20 to 30 percent of pancreatic tumors are thought to be caused by cigarette smoking; even smokeless tobacco products are a factor.

Lose weight. Very overweight people are about 20% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer and bringing extra weight around the waist can be a risk factor even for those who are not overweight.

Limit exposure to certain chemicals. Intense and repeated exposure to certain chemicals at work, such as those used in dry cleaning and metalworking, can increase a person’s risk of pancreatic cancer.

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