14 symptoms of Pancreatic cancer - specialist nurse issues warning about UK's fifth biggest cancer killer

Keeping an eye out for pancreatic cancer is very important, and charity Pancreatic Cancer UK is here to help you with this

A specialist pancreatic nurse has outlined 14 symptoms of pancreatic cancer which could be dismissed as a less serious illness. The disease is the fifth biggest cancer killer in the UK.

According to the charity Pancreatic Cancer UK, The risk of developing the disease increases with age, as with many other cancers. In the UK, nearly half (47%) of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are aged over 75.

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The charity also recommends you visit your doctor if you think pancreatic cancer runs in the family. Smoking is also a known cause of this and several other types of cancer.

A spokesperson for Pancreatic Cancer UK said: “We know that smoking cigarettes and cigars can cause pancreatic cancer. It’s estimated that smoking causes more than one in five pancreatic cancers (22%) in the UK. Your risk of pancreatic cancer increases the more you smoke, and the longer you have smoked for.”

Specialist nurse at Pancreatic Cancer UK Jeni Jones has spoken about the symptoms which can be often overlooked as something other than cancer. Included in the list are symptoms such as itchiness and nausea.

1.   Indigestion

Nurse Jones said: “A lot of the time people might just take over-the-counter remedies for persistent indigestion – it’s not something that will automatically see you running to the GP. But there are times when it might line up with other symptoms like pain in your tummy or back, and with several niggling things happening, which could suggest pancreatic cancer.”

2.   Tummy or back pain

“It may be around your bra line if you’re a woman,” she says. “It’s not lower back pain, and it’s often between the shoulderblades. It may be worse after you eat something, and it doesn’t tend to go away easily.”

3.   Unexplained weight loss

On this point, Jones said that it may happen to people who are not trying to lose weight. She said: “They might just notice their clothes are getting loose.”

4.   Appetite loss

On appetite loss as a symptom, Jones said: “It can range from people thinking they’re not really that hungry, to having no appetite at all and not being able to face food or feeling full after very little food,” says Jones, who explains that such appetite changes may be because the tumour is pressing on the stomach, or just diminishing the capacity to eat.

5.   Jaundice

“Not everyone with pancreatic cancer will get jaundice, although it is very prevalent. It’s a red flag symptom – you might notice it when the whites of your eyes turn a bit yellow, before your skin starts to get that yellow tinge.”

6.   Itchiness

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“It’s insanely itchy,” stresses Jones. “I’m not talking about a little itch, it would have you scratching to a crazy degree.”

Here are signs of pancreatic cancer you can look out for Here are signs of pancreatic cancer you can look out for
Here are signs of pancreatic cancer you can look out for | SciePro - stock.adobe.com

7.    Changes to bowel habits

Jones said: “This is a very, very important one, because there are many, many causes of diarrhoea, but this is something we call steatorrhea – when there’s fat present in the stool, which makes it go a yellowy colour, which also happens in jaundice. This greasy, yellowy poo that doesn’t flush away is a sure sign that there’s something wrong higher up in the digestive system.

“If the patient doesn’t describe the specifics of their diarrhoea, it can waste time for diagnosis, and time is of the essence.”

8.   Recently diagnosed diabetes

She said: “If you have some of the pancreatic cancer symptoms and you’re suddenly diagnosed with diabetes, then that ought to be a red flag symptom for your GP to think about whether you need a scan to check your pancreas.”

9.   Nausea

Feeling or being sick can be another pancreatic cancer symptom, although Jones said: she stresses: “Sometimes people can vomit, but that’s not as common as feeling sick.”

10.  Blood clots

Jones says blood clots are an uncommon pancreatic cancer symptom, and one that would perhaps be seen in people who,  for example, are younger and non-smokers and so wouldn’t typically be at risk of clots.

She said: “They might present with breathlessness or a swollen leg, and go for a scan and find out they’ve got pancreatic cancer,” she says. “It’s exceptional, but clots are a symptom and could be leading to the fact that there’s an underlying problem.”

11.  Fatigue

“If you rest and can’t recharge your batteries, coupled with some of the other symptoms, like ongoing pain or steatorrhea, which drain a person physically, it could be another pancreatic cancer symptom.”

12.  Fever, shivering, and feeling unwell

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Such symptoms are uncommon pancreatic cancer symptoms, but aren’t unheard of and may be either linked to the cancer itself, or possibly an infection linked to jaundice, which Jones says will need immediate medical attention.

13.  Difficulty swallowing food

She said: “The cancer can make a person feel full up, so although they think the problem is to do with their swallowing, it’s often the fact that they’re just not able to fit the food in.”

14.  Depression and anxiety

Jones said: “In of itself, it’s probably not something that would make you say you’ve probably got pancreatic cancer, but low mood can go hand-in-hand with pain and fatigue. Again, it’s taking these things as a whole, rather than in isolation.”

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