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Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Pancreatic cancer symptoms: What you should know

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.

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.

cancer diagnostics

Pancreatic cancer symptoms may not develop until the cancer has reached advanced stages or spread to other parts of the body. 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
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Swollen gallbladder (usually found by your doctor during a physical exam)
  • Blood clots
  • Diabetes


Last Revised: 06/01/2018

Understanding cancer symptoms

These symptoms may be attributed to a number of conditions other than cancer. If you notice any cancer signs or symptoms, it's important to visit your doctor for an accurate diagnosis.

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