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Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms & Diagnosis

Symptoms

Pancreatic cancer does not cause symptoms in its early stages. The cancer may grow for some time before it causes symptoms. When symptoms do appear, they may be very vague. In many cases, the cancer has spread outside the pancreas by the time it is discovered.

Symptoms will vary depending on the location and size of the tumor. Symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Pain—in the upper abdomen, sometimes spreading to the back (a result of the cancer growing and spreading)
  • Jaundice —yellowness of skin and whites of the eyes; dark urine (if the tumor blocks the common bile duct); tan stool or stool that floats to the top of the bowl.
  • Weakness, dizziness, chills, muscle spasms, diarrhea (especially if the cancer involves the islet cells that make insulin and other hormones)

These symptoms may also be caused by other, less serious health conditions. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should see a doctor.

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam may be done. The doctor may order blood and urine tests, as well as check for hidden blood in bowel movements.

Test may include:

Upper GI series—a series of x-rays of the upper digestive system taken after drinking a barium solution

CT scan —a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of structures inside the abdomen

MRI scan —a test that uses magnetic waves to make pictures of structures inside the abdomen

Ultrasonography—a test that uses sound waves to find tumors

Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) —a type of x-ray that shows the pancreatic ductal system after dye has been sent through a tube down the throat and into the pancreas

PTC—a type of x-ray test that shows blockages in the bile ducts of the liver

Angiography —x-rays of blood vessels taken after an injection of dye that makes the blood vessels show up on the x-rays

Biopsy —removal of a sample of pancreatic tissue to test for cancer cells

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Copyright © 2020 EBSCO Publishing All rights reserved.

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