Description of the Last Stages of Pancreatic Cancer: Stage IV

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In the last stages of pancreatic cancer there is nothing else that can be done except to keep the patient comfortable. The harsh reality of this disease is not what the patient, family or friends want to hear, however these unfortunately are the facts.

Pancreatic cancer is hard to detect and diagnose because the screening test to detect this type of cancer are unpredictable. The early symptoms are often confused with other ailments and diseases because they are so vague. For this reason most of the patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer learn that it has already progressed to the final stages.

How is the Patient Affected?

The final and last stage of pancreatic cancer may manifest in different ways in each patient, however here are the most common symptoms that the patients experience:

  • Pain is the number one common effect that patients experience. The pain manifests in the upper part of the abdomen and radiates to the upper and middle part of the back. This type of pain occurs because the tumor bears weight on the nerves and organs that are nearby. The pain is worse after the patient has eaten, and when they lay down. The degree of pain can be a mild aching feeling to an unbearable sharp continues sensation. The pain alone causes other affects to occur.

  • Loss of appetite occurs because of the pain that is experienced. When a patient is in so much pain, eating is the last thing a patient wants to do. The patient is very likely to lose weight due to this factor.

  • Inability to sleep: pain levels prevent the patient from relaxing. Therefore, the energy level and mood of the patient are affected.

  • Nausea and vomiting will occur if the tumor is blocking the digestive tract. This can lead to pancreatic insufficiency. Dietary supplements may have to be given to help absorb and digest food.

  • Severe itching occurs because of the bile acids that accumulate in and under the skin. This causes great discomfort to the patient.

  • Yellowing of the skin or jaundice may occur if the tumor has affected or spread to the liver. This would also include yellowing of the eyes.

  • Diarrhea, dark urine, and unexplained blood clots often occur because of the pancreatic mass.

  • Insulin-dependent diabetes may occur because the function of the pancreas is reduced.

  • Confusion may occur because of the imbalance changes in the body throughout the blood stream.

Most patients that are diagnosed in the last stages of this type of cancer have a life expectancy of three to six months. Pancreatic cancer is the 4th leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, and has the highest mortality rate of all other major cancers. Pancreatic cancer is also one of the cancers for which the mortality rate has not improved over the last 40 years.


Johns Hopkins University

MD Anderson Hospital Houston Texas

Hirshberg Foundation For Pancreatic Cancer Research Howard A. Reber, M.D., Professor of Surgery, Chief, Section of Gastrointestinal Surgery, UCLA School of Medicine


Source for statistics: American Cancer Society: Cancer Facts & Figures 2010 and NCI Funded Research Portfolio