Doctor's Notes on Pancreatic Cancer
Pancreatic cancer occurs when the cells of the pancreas start to grow abnormally. The pancreas has two main jobs in the body: to make juices that help digest food, and to make hormones, such as insulin and glucagon, that help control blood sugar levels. Both of these hormones help the body use and store the energy it gets from food. Pancreatic cancer is difficult to detect and diagnose early because there aren't any noticeable signs or symptoms in the early stages of pancreatic cancer, when symptoms of pancreatic cancer are present they resemble symptoms of many other illnesses, and because the pancreas is hidden behind other organs such as the stomach, small intestine, liver, gallbladder, spleen, and bile ducts.
When pancreatic cancer symptoms occur they may include yellowing skin and eyes (jaundice), pain in the upper or middle abdomen and back, unexplained weight loss, light-colored stools, dark urine, loss of appetite, and excessive fatigue.
Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer include jaundice, pain, and weight loss.
Pancreatic cancer may not cause early signs or symptoms. Signs and symptoms may be caused by pancreatic cancer or by other conditions. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following:
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes).
- Light-colored stools.
- Dark urine.
- Pain in the upper or middle abdomen and back.
- Weight loss for no known reason.
- Loss of appetite.
- Feeling very tired.
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.