If you have indigestion and an upset stomach, and maybe you haven’t eaten and you’re feeling a little sick, you might think you just have a bug in your stomach. And while that’s by far the most likely cause, always know that they’re also symptoms of something much worse – the UK’s fifth biggest cancer killer, pancreatic cancer.
The symptoms of the disease, which is diagnosed in around 10,500 people in the UK each year, can often be mistaken for other, much more benign conditions, and this is why many people do not seek medical help until that the cancer is not in its final stages. and much more difficult to treat.
As a result, pancreatic cancer is the deadliest common cancer – more than half of people with the disease die within three months of diagnosis, according to Pancreatic Cancer UK (PCUK, pancreaticcancer.org.uk).
PCUK specialist nurse Jeni Jones says: ‘The vast majority of cases are diagnosed when the cancer is already at an advanced stage, as symptoms often overlap with other conditions like indigestion and bowel syndrome irritable. If you have a persistent symptom you should talk to a GP – this could mean you are diagnosed early.
Here are some of the symptoms that might be easy to dismiss as something less serious…
Indigestion and/or heartburn can be a common symptom of pancreatic cancer, but most people wouldn’t necessarily think it’s related to a serious illness.
“Most of the time people can just take over-the-counter remedies for persistent indigestion – it’s not something that will automatically have you running to the GP,” says Jones. “But there are times when it can line up with other symptoms like stomach or back pain, and with several insignificant things happening, which might suggest pancreatic cancer.”
2. Stomach or back pain
It can range from a dull ache to pain that radiates from your stomach to your back, Jones says. “It can be around your bra line if you’re female,” she says. “It’s not lower back pain, and it’s often between the shoulder blades. It can be worse after eating something, and it doesn’t tend to go away easily.
She says that combined stomach and back pain is a fairly common symptom, but some people can have one or the other.
3. Unexplained weight loss
Pancreatic cancer-related weight loss can initially be seen when people aren’t really trying to lose weight and are eating relatively normally. “They might just notice their clothes coming off,” Jones says.
4. Loss of appetite
Weight loss is of course sometimes linked to loss of appetite, which is another easily overlooked symptom of pancreatic cancer, at least initially. “It can range from people thinking they’re not really hungry, to having no appetite at all and being unable to cope with food or feeling full after very little food,” explains Jones, who explains that such changes in appetite may be due to the tumor putting pressure on the stomach or simply impairing the ability to eat.
Jaundice is a less easily overlooked symptom of pancreatic cancer, but it only tends to occur in people whose tumor is toward the head of the pancreas, Jones says. “Not everyone who has pancreatic cancer will get jaundice, although it’s very common,” she says. “It’s a red flag symptom – you might notice it when the whites of your eyes turn a bit yellow, before your skin starts to take on that yellow hue.”
Your skin can become extremely itchy before you develop jaundice because bile salts first build up under the skin. “It’s incredibly irritating,” Jones points out. “I’m not talking about a little itch, it would make you scratch to an insane degree.”
7. Changes in bowel habits
“It’s very, very important,” Jones points out, “because there are many, many causes of diarrhea, but it’s something we call steatorrhea – when there’s fat present in the stools, causing them to turn yellow, which also occurs in jaundice.That greasy, yellowish poo that won’t go away is a sure sign that there’s something wrong higher up in the digestive system. .
“If the patient doesn’t describe the specifics of their diarrhea, it can waste time on diagnosis, and time is running out.”
8. Recently Diagnosed Diabetes
Jones warns that a very small number of people with newly diagnosed diabetes may have pancreatic cancer because cancer can prevent the pancreas from producing enough insulin, which can lead to diabetes. She explains: “If you have some of the symptoms of pancreatic cancer and are suddenly diagnosed with diabetes, this should be a red flag symptom for your GP to consider if you need a CT scan to check your pancreas.”
Feeling sick or being sick can be another symptom of pancreatic cancer, although she points out, “Sometimes people may vomit, but that’s not as common as feeling sick.”
10. Blood clots
Jones says blood clots are a rare symptom of pancreatic cancer, and might be seen in people who, for example, are younger and non-smokers and therefore would not generally be at risk for clots. .
“They may show shortness of breath or a swollen leg, get a CT scan and find out they have pancreatic cancer,” she says. “It’s exceptional, but clots are a symptom and may be the cause of an underlying problem.”
Fatigue can, of course, be caused by a number of things, but if you have other symptoms as well, it could be linked to pancreatic cancer, Jones warns. “If you’re resting and can’t recharge your batteries, coupled with some of the other symptoms, like continuous pain or steatorrhea, that physically exhaust a person, that could be another symptom of pancreatic cancer.”
12. Fever, chills and feeling sick
Such symptoms are rare symptoms of pancreatic cancer, but they are not unheard of and may be related to the cancer itself, or possibly an infection related to jaundice, which Jones says will require immediate medical attention. .
13. Difficulty swallowing food
“Cancer can make a person feel full, so even if they think the problem is with their swallowing, it’s often the fact that they just aren’t able to process food,” explains Jones, who explains that pancreatic cancer doesn’t actually cause problems with the esophagus, it can just make swallowing seem abnormal.
14. Depression and anxiety
Depression and anxiety with no obvious cause are common symptoms of pancreatic cancer, Jones says. “By itself, that’s probably not something that would make you say you probably have pancreatic cancer,” she says, “but a bad mood can go hand in hand with pain and fatigue. Again, it’s about taking these things together, rather than in isolation.
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