10 Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer (& What the First Signs Are)

Updated in February 2023

Symptoms of pancreatic cancer can include yellow skin and eyes, dark urine, white stool. weight loss, abdominal pain, indigestion, nausea and vomiting.

It is common to experience less or more mild symptoms in the initial phases of pancreatic cancer, however. This is why pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed when the tumor has already metastasized to other areas. 

If you suspect you may have pancreatic cancer, you should consult a gastroenterologist or family physician. The doctor will likely order tests, like an abdominal US or CT, to confirm a diagnosis. 

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Main symptoms

The main symptoms of pancreatic cancer are: 

  1. Yellow eyes and skin, when the tumor compromises the ducts that transport bile 
  2. Dark urine,  which occurs due to high billirrubin levels in the blood (from a bile duct obstruction) 
  3. White stool, due to the reduced amounts of bile reaching the intestines 
  4. Itchy skin, also drom high bilirubin levels in the blood
  5. Abdominal pain, which can radiate to the back, due to tumor growth impinging on nearby organs and nerves 
  6. Indigestion, from changes to pancreatic fluid production, which can make fat digestion more difficult 
  7. Lack of appetite and weight loss, from cancer-related changes to digestion and metabolism 
  8. Nausea and vomiting, when the tumor interferes with flow along the digestive tract 
  9. Blood clot formation, due to the complex innervation of blood vessels from the tumor, and due to the production of substances that stimulate coagulation 
  10. Diabetes, which occurs when the tumor interferes with insulin production

In addition, when pancreatic cancer triggers the development of diabetes, it is common to note other symptoms, like changes to blood sugar levels, fatigue and increased urine output.

First signs

Pancreatic cancer in its initial stages can cause symptoms like loss of appetite, indigestion and changes to bowel movement frequency. It usually takes some time to notice them, as they may be confused for other, more common conditions like anxiety or constipation. 

This is why pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed in its more advanced stages, when it has metastasized to other tissues. 

When to see a doctor

You should consult a gastroenterologist or family physician if you have symptoms like yellow skin and eyes, weight loss, indigestion or frequent abdominal pain. 

In these cases, the doctor may recommend testing, like abdominal ultrasounds, CT scans or blood work to detect any changes that may be related to pancreatic cancer. 

Possible causes

The cause of pancreatic cancer is not known. However, there is an increased risk for this cancer in men over the age of 55 who smoke, and in patients with excessive alcohol and fatty food intake.