Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms & Signs
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Video: Pancreatic Cancer Treatment by StageOnce you understand your pancreatic cancer symptoms, it's important to understand the appropriate treatments available. Dr. Leon Yoder describes the best treatment plans for early and advanced stage pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic Cancer Treatment by Stage
Listen to gastroenterologist Dr. Leon Yoder describe treatments for early and advanced stages of pancreatic cancer.
What Are the Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer?
The pancreas sits behind the stomach, deep within the digestive system. The function and location of the pancreas can make cancer difficult to detect, particularly in the early stages of the disease. And, the symptoms of pancreatic cancer may differ depending on the type of cell affected.
Exocrine pancreatic cancers (occurring in the cells responsible for producing the digestive enzymes) may reduce the body's ability to take up nutrients. Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (PET or islet cell tumors) may lead to the over-production of certain hormones, leading to a variety of other endocrine-related syndromes.
General Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer
The majority of pancreatic cancers develop in the exocrine cells (the cells that produce the enzymes or "digestive juices" that help break down proteins, fats and starches). These enzymes are necessary for digestion. Pancreatic cancer symptoms may not develop until the cancer has reached advanced stages or spread to other parts of the body. Although many signs of pancreatic cancer may be attributable to other conditions, some common symptoms include:
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
- Digestive problems, including abnormal stools, nausea or vomiting
- Pain in the upper abdomen which can extend to your back
- Loss of appetite
- Sudden weight loss
- Swollen gallbladder (usually found by your doctor during a physical exam)
- Blood clots
Endocrine Cell Tumor Symptoms
Pancreatic cancer symptoms may be caused by the excess hormones produced by islet cell tumors (cancer occurring in the pancreatic endocrine cells). Signs of pancreatic cancer may include dizziness, diarrhea and muscle spasms. Only about five percent of all pancreatic cancers develop in endocrine cells. Pancreatic tumors that produce excess hormones include:
- Gastrinomas - A tumor that produces gastrin (gastrinomas) may cause the body to make too much stomach acid. Stomach ulcers may develop as a result of the excess production of stomach acid. Pain, nausea and a decreased appetite are common signs of stomach ulcers. This condition is also known as Zollinger-Ellison syndrome.
- Glucagonomas - Glucagnomas increase the production of the hormone, glucagon, responsible for regulating the levels of glucose in the blood. Some symptoms and conditions that may result from an excess of glucagon include: diabetes (increased blood sugar), malnutrition, diarrhea, weight loss and an irritation of the tongue or mouth (glossitis or angular cheilosis).
- Insulin - Whereas glucose raises blood sugar levels, insulin lowers the amount of glucose in the blood. A tumor producing insulin (insulinomas) may lower the blood sugar too much, causing a condition called hypoglycemia. Symptoms of hypoglycemia may include weakness, confusion or unusual sweating. In extreme cases, low blood sugar levels can cause a person to pass out or go into coma.
- Somatostatinomas - Somatostatinomas affects the regulation of other hormones, including glucagon and insulin. These types of tumors can also cause diabetes as well as problems with the gallbladder.
- Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide Tumors (VIPomas) - These tumors, often referred to as VIPomas, may cause problems with digestion. The low levels of stomach acid and decreased levels of potassium in the blood inhibit the digestive process. At first this may cause diarrhea. As the tumor develops, the severity of the diarrhea may increase to the point where someone may have over a dozen bowel movements per day.
- Pancreatic Polypeptide (PPomas) - This hormone is involved with both exocrine and endocrine functions. Malignant PPomas may cause abdominal pain and may lead to an enlarged liver.
NOTE: These symptoms may be attributed to a number of conditions other than cancer. It is important to consult with a medical professional for an accurate diagnosis.
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