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Symptoms and Signs of Pancreatic Cancer

Doctor's Notes on Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is the development of abnormal multiplying pancreatic cells; the most common type is adenocarcinoma from the pancreatic exocrine glands – the other type is from the pancreatic endocrine glands termed pancreatic neuroendocrine carcinomas or islet cell tumors. Unfortunately, pancreatic adenocarcinoma is one of the most aggressive cancers; by the time the patient develops symptom and signs, about 53% have the cancer spread into distant body sites. Pain, often constant, in the abdomen and/or back, weight loss, diarrhea with fatty floating stools, bloating and appetite loss are generally the first noticed signs and symptoms. Other signs and symptoms may include jaundice, enlarged gallbladder, ascities, abdominal mass, venous thrombosis, cervical and clavicular lymph nodes, pruritis and depression.

The exact causes of pancreatic cancers are unknown but there are risk factors that include smoking (most common environmental risk factor), obesity, advanced age, chronic pancreatitis (from alcohol or gallstones), diabetes, family history, red meat consumption and being a male, especially a black male in the US as they have the highest rates of the disease.

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2019


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