The Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer and How it is Diagnosed

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Pancreatic cancer is known to be difficult to detect and diagnose because the symptoms of pancreatic cancer are not usually noticeable in the early stages and can be misidentified as signs of other medical issues.

According to the American Cancer Society regarding estimates for 2010, “about 43,140 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer” and “about 36,800 people will die of pancreatic cancer.”

The following are the symptoms related to pancreatic cancer. They may not appear until the cancer is advanced, if at all.

Weight Loss

The symptoms of unexplained weight loss can easily be attributed to a number of other factors, including stress, illnesses such as flu and other medical conditions. It is, however, one of several symptoms found in patients with pancreatic cancer.

Loss of Appetite

Another symptom that may be found in pancreatic cancer patients is loss of appetite. This, too, can be easily thought to be caused by a number of other things. A patient with other pancreatic cancer symptoms or who is at risk for cancer should bring this symptom or set of symptoms to the attention of a physician immediately.


Unexplained fatigue can occur in patients with this type of cancer. The fatigue can feel like an overwhelming sensation of the having no energy whatsoever. It differs from feeling tired. One expression commonly associated with fatigue is “feeling wiped out.”


Jaundice is a condition in which the liver fails to function properly and the result is that the skin and the whites of the eyes begin to yellow.


The pain caused by this type of cancer occurs in the back, upper abdomen and middle abdomen. It may appear in one or more of these sites.

Blood Clots

A patient who develops blood clots may have pancreatic cancer. If blood clots develop, a patient will require immediate medical attention and a thorough evaluation to ascertain why the clots are occurring.


This symptom can accompany pancreatic cancer. It can appear alone or with other symptoms.

Diagnosis of Pancreatic Cancer

For pancreatic cancer to be diagnosed, several things usually need to happen. The first is that the treating physician will take note of the patient experiencing symptoms. A physical examination may be performed, but because of the location of the pancreas, a tumor may or may not be detected in this way. Lab work may be ordered.

Other diagnostic methods that may be ordered include a CT scan, MRI, ultrasound and biopsy (when a tumor or mass is located).


Learning the symptoms of pancreatic cancer and contacting a physician quickly should they appear can help increase the possibility of early detection. Any individual at risk for cancer should take note of any unusual symptoms they experience and consult with their physician.


Pancreatic Cancer. Mayo Clinic Staff. April 10, 2010.

Pancreatic Cancer Detailed Guide. American Cancer Society.

Pancreatic Cancer Treatment – General Information about Pancreatic Cancer. National Cancer Institute on WebMD. Last Update August 2, 2010.