Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest forms of this disease known to man. With a five-year survival rate that’s less than 10 percent, this type of cancer claims more than 40,000 American lives each year. While many cases are diagnosed only in their later, less treatable phases, knowing the early warning signs can make a difference in outcomes.
Pancreatic cancer is considered so difficult to detect because it tends to present with rather vague symptoms at first, if any at all. Since these symptoms are commonly attributed to other causes, cancer may go undetected for years, until it reaches a point that mortality is almost assured.
Some of the warning signs that may open the door on early detection in those who are at risk for pancreatic cancer include:
• Jaundice – Although widely connected to a number of other conditions, jaundice is a very strong symptom of pancreatic cancer. When cancer is present, the liver is blocked from excreting bilirubin. This can result in a darkening of urine and light colored stool. Itchy skin is also possible.
• Back or stomach pain – Should cancer cause the pancreas to grow, the enlargement may cause pain in the stomach. In addition, when pancreatic cancer spreads to nerves, back pain may become an issue.
• Nausea and vomiting – This is caused when pancreatic cancer tumors push on the stomach, interfering with food consumption.
• Blood clots – Deep vein thrombosis may also arise when pancreatic cancer is present.
The early symptoms of pancreatic cancer do have many other causes. This can complicate arriving at a diagnosis. People who are at risk for this disease, however, are urged to keep tabs on the possible symptoms. Risk factors for pancreatic cancer include obesity, a family history of the disease, smoking, diabetes, chronic pancreatitis and cirrhosis of the liver, among other factors. People who are concerned about pancreatic cancer should talk to their doctors about personal risks.