Pancreatic Cancer: Symptoms & Signs

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Pancreatic cancer typically does not cause symptoms until it has grown, so it is most frequently diagnosed in advanced stages rather than early in the course of the disease. In some cases, jaundice (a yellowish discoloration of the skin and whites of the eyes) without pain can be an early sign of pancreatic cancer. Other symptoms and signs that can occur with more advanced disease are

Pale stools, upper abdominal pain that radiates to the back, back pain, abdominal pain, dark urine, abdominal bloating, diarrhea, and enlarged lymph nodes in the neck can be present as well. In some cases, a new onset of diabetes may be a sign of pancreatic cancer, but the vast majority of cases of diabetes are not related to cancer.

Causes of pancreatic cancer

The exact cause of pancreatic cancer is unknown. Rarely, there can be familial or hereditary genetic syndromes that run in families and put individuals at higher risk, such as mutations of the genes BRCA-2 and, to a lesser extent, BRCA-1.

REFERENCE:

Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/16/2017

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