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Pancreatic cancer dubbed ‘silent killer’ – what are the early symptoms?

Olivia Williams discusses ‘bizarre’ symptom of pancreatic cancer

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Pancreatic cancer is a common cancer across the UK with one person dying from the disease every hour. It is responsible for 5.2 percent of all cancer deaths in the UK, making it the fifth biggest cancer killer – with experts projecting it to overtake breast cancer as the fourth most common cancer killer by 2030. Late diagnosis is a massive problem with pancreatic cancer, as 80 percent of cases are diagnosed when the disease is metastatic, when the average survival rate is between two and six months.

What is pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer is a cancer which is found anywhere in the pancreas, an organ in the top portion of your tummy.

The pancreas helps you to digest your food and makes hormones including insulin.

There are several different types of pancreatic cancer, with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma being the most common type.

It is the 10th most common cancer in the UK with 10,449 cases diagnosed in 2018.

Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival of all common cancers with a five-year survival at less than seven percent.

Five-year survival of pancreatic cancer in the UK lags behind the rest of the world, with the UK ranking 29th out of 33 countries.

One in five people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer is diagnosed at stage one or two of the condition.

Three in five are diagnosed at stage three and stage four.

What are the early symptoms of pancreatic cancer?

Early diagnosis is paramount when it comes to survival outcomes for people with pancreatic cancer.

One-year survival in those diagnosed at an early stage is six times higher than the one-year survival of those diagnosed with stage four.

However, sadly, most people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer find out they have the condition at a late stage.

Pancreatic cancer does not impact people the same way meaning someone with the condition may not have all the symptoms listed below, but may have some or a variation of them including:

  • Tummy pain or back pain
  • Unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Jaundice (yellow skin or eyes and itchy skin)
  • Change in bowel habits
  • Indigestion.

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Stomach or back pain is the most common symptom of pancreatic cancer.

The pain will generally feel like discomfort or tenderness in the tummy area and will likely spread towards the back.

Some people may experience these symptoms with no pain at all or varying degrees of pain.

Anyone aged 60 and above experiencing tummy or back pain, especially with weight loss, should visit their GP immediately and should then be referred for an urgent CT scan or ultrasound scan within two weeks.

Those who experience weight loss, aged above 60, should be referred to have a CT scan within two weeks if they lose weight, along with tummy pain, back pain, nausea, sickness, diarrhoea, constipation or a diabetes diagnosis within the last year.

Indigestion, another common early symptom of pancreatic cancer, causes a painful, burning feeling in your chest.

It can also provide you with a bitter and unpleasant taste in your mouth.

If you experience indigestion often, you should speak to your GP.

Other early symptoms may include:

  • A loss of appetite
  • Changes to bowel movements and habits
  • A recent diagnosis of diabetes
  • A problem digesting food such as feeling full quickly when you eat, bloating, burping or wind
  • Blood clots, also known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
  • Feeling or being sick
  • Feeling very tired.
  • Less common early symptoms may include having a fever and shivering – as well as a general feeling of unwellness.

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  • Posted on November 15, 2021