Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer

In early stages, exocrine pancreatic cancers often do not present symptoms; when symptoms do appear, it often is after the cancer has spread. Pancreatic cancer frequently spreads to the liver, and jaundice — yellowing of the eyes and skin — often is the first symptom. Other symptoms can include stomach or back pain; weight loss; loss of appetite; nausea and vomiting; enlargement of the gallbladder and liver; blood clots, fatty tissue abnormalities; and, rarely, diabetes.

With NETs, the tumors often release excess hormones into the bloodstream. Each type of NET will have its own symptoms.

  • Gastrinomas: Diarrhea and weight loss.
  • Glucagonomas: Most often a rash called necrolytic migratory erythema.
  • Insulinomas: Weakness, confusion, sweating, rapid heartbeat.
  • Somatostatinoma: Stomach pain, nausea; poor appetite/weight loss; diarrhea; symptoms of diabetes; and jaundice.
  • VIPomas (Verner-Morrison Syndrome): Diarrhea and digestive problems
  • PPomas (Pancreatic Polypeptide): Stomach pain and diarrhea.

Like exocrine pancreatic cancers, NETs often spread to the liver, causing pain, loss of appetite, and jaundice.

Risk Factors for Pancreatic Cancer

Some risk factors for pancreatic cancer can be changed, including smoking, overweight/obesity, and workplace chemical exposure, all of which increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Risk factors for pancreatic cancer that cannot be changed include:

  • Age: The risk of developing pancreatic cancer increases with age.
  • Gender: Men are slightly more likely to develop the disease.
  • Race: African-Americans also are slightly more like to develop pancreatic cancer.
  • Family history and inherited genetic syndromes: Pancreatic cancer can run in families, due to inherited gene mutations.
  • Diabetes: The disease is more common among individuals with diabetes.
  • Chronic pancreatitis: Long-term inflammation of the pancreas can lead to cancer.
  • Cirrhosis: Individuals with long-term scarring of the liver also are at an increased risk for pancreatic cancer.