Doctor's Notes on Pancreatic Cancer in Children
Pancreatic cancer occurs when the cells of the pancreas start to grow abnormally. Many different kinds of tumors can form in the pancreas.
In children, some pancreatic tumors do not secrete hormones and there are no symptoms of disease. Pancreatic tumors that do secrete hormones may cause symptoms that depend on the type of hormone being made. If the tumor secretes insulin, symptoms include low blood sugar (blurred vision, headache, lightheadedness, tiredness, weakness, shakiness, nervousness, irritability, sweating, confusion, or hunger), changes in behavior, seizures, or coma. If the tumor secretes gastrin, symptoms may include Stomach ulcers that keep coming back pain in the abdomen that may spread to the back, gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), or diarrhea. Symptoms of pancreatic cancer caused by tumors that make other types of hormones include watery diarrhea, dehydration, low blood sodium levels, weight changes for no known reason, round face and thin arms and legs, tiredness and weakness, high blood pressure, or purple or pink stretch marks on the skin. If cancer is in the head of the pancreas, the bile duct or blood flow to the stomach may be blocked symptoms may include yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice) or blood in the stool or vomit.
Pancreatic Cancer in Children Symptoms
In children, some pancreatic tumors do not secrete hormones and there are no signs and symptoms of disease. This makes it hard to diagnose pancreatic cancer early.
Pancreatic tumors that do secrete hormones may cause signs and symptoms. The signs and symptoms depend on the type of hormone being made.
- If the tumor secretes insulin, signs and symptoms that may occur include the following:
- Low blood sugar. This can cause blurred vision, headache, and feeling lightheaded, tired, weak, shaky, nervous, irritable, sweaty, confused, or hungry.
- Changes in behavior.
If the tumor secretes gastrin, signs and symptoms that may occur include the following:
- Stomach ulcers that keep coming back.
- Pain in the abdomen, which may spread to the back. The pain may come and go and it may go away after
- taking an antacid.
- The flow of stomach contents back into the esophagus (gastroesophageal reflux).
Signs and symptoms caused by tumors that make other types of hormones may include the following:
- Watery diarrhea.
- Dehydration (feeling thirsty, making less urine, dry skin and mouth, headaches, dizziness, or feeling tired).
- Low sodium (salt) level in the blood (confusion, sleepiness, muscle weakness, and seizures).
- Weight loss or gain for no known reason.
- Round face and thin arms and legs.
- Feeling very tired and weak.
- High blood pressure.
- Purple or pink stretch marks on the skin.
If cancer is in the head of the pancreas, the bile duct or blood flow to the stomach may be blocked and the following signs may occur:
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes).
- Blood in the stool or vomit.
Check with your child’s doctor if you see any of these problems in your child. Other conditions that are not pancreatic cancer may cause these same signs and symptoms.
What do actor Patrick Swayze and U.S. Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg have in common? They were both diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the 12th most diagnosed type of cancer, but the fourth leading cause of cancer death overall.
In 2013, the American Cancer Society estimated 46,420 people would be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and 39,590 would die of the disease. Swayze passed away in 2009, while Justice Ginsburg is still alive 7 years after her diagnosis and treatment.
Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.