Pancreatic cancer in most cases spreads rapidly to nearby organs. It is rarely detected in its early stages. But for people with pancreatic cysts or a family history of pancreatic cancer, some screening steps might help detect a problem early. One sign of pancreatic cancer is diabetes, especially when it occurs with weight loss, jaundice or pain in the upper abdomen that spreads to the back.
What are The Effects Of Pancreatic Cancer?
Most commonly cancers of the pancreas arise in the head of the gland. This has two effects. First, the cancer blocks the bile duct leading to jaundice, dark urine and pale stools. There is sometimes itching of the skin due to jaundice, which rapidly disappears once the blockage is cleared or bypassed.
Second, the cancer blocks the pancreatic duct leading to poor digestion, loose motions and weight loss. This can be relieved by clearing the blockage or by giving pancreatic enzyme tablets. Rarely it causes acute pancreatitis. Diabetes may already be present in a number of patients prior to developing the cancer or become apparent soon after it is diagnosed or following surgery.
Similarly blockage of the pancreatic duct can cause pain. Pain can be due to infiltration of nerves surrounding pancreas too.
What Are The Symptoms & Signs Of Pancreatic Cancer?
The commonest type of pancreatic cancer is that arising from the small ducts of the pancreas (ductal-type adenocarcinoma). Most often it arises in the head of the gland and a principle feature is the development of obstructive jaundice. This type of cancer often occurs in individuals aged 60 years or older but it can affect younger people as well. Typical early symptoms are jaundice, dark urine, pale stools, itching, and feeling of sickness (nausea), weight loss & unexpected development of diabetes.
Tumors in the body and tail of pancreas are more difficult to pick up early because they do not cause obstructive jaundice earlier on. Therefore they remain undiagnosed for long time & spread by the time are diagnosed.
Typical symptoms for body and tail of pancreas tumors are vague abdominal pain, dyspepsia, stomach ulcer-like pain, intermittent diarrhea, feeling of sickness (nausea), weight loss, unexpected development of diabetes, back pain that does not go away & unexplained blood clots (venous thrombosis).
Tumors of the Ampulla of Vater, Intra- pancreatic Bile Duct Cancer (bile duct as it travels through the pancreas) & Duodenal Cancer can also cause similar complaints as the cancer of head of pancreas. Tumors from the ampulla & duodenum may cause bleeding& present as bloody vomiting or blood in stools (black stools) or only anemia. It is important to know that these cancers have better long-term outcome than pancreatic cancer.
Cystic tumors are relatively uncommon and are more frequent in females. They present with abdominal pain, back pain, vomiting, nausea, weight loss, an attack of acute pancreatitis & rarely gastrointestinal bleeding. If the cyst presses on the bile duct then this will cause obstructive jaundice. However it is often picked up while investigating the abdomen for relatively minor or unrelated complaints or during a routine health checkup.
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Consult Best Pancreatic Cancer Specialists – Dr.D.R. Kulkarni (HPB Surgeon) from India. Dr. D. R. Kulkarni is a Consultant HPB Surgeon at many renowned hospitals in city of Mumbai for last 10 years. At present he is attached to Lilavati Hospital, S.L.Raheja Hospital & Asian Institute of Oncology.