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Warning Signs You May Have a "Most Deadly" Cancer

Your best chance at survival is early detection.

Pancreatic cancer, a type of cancer that starts in the pancreas, is one of the most dreaded. Why? It has a very low survival rate. Although there are many types of tumors which affect the pancreas gland, the most common form is pancreatic cancer which arises from the exocrine ( the digestive enzyme producing ) portion of the pancreas, explains Yale Medicine's James Farrell, MBChB, expert in gastrointestinal endoscopy and pancreatic diseases at Yale Cancer Center and Smilow Cancer Hospital. "Although not as common as breast or lung cancer for example, pancreatic cancer will be the 2nd most common cause for cancer-related death in the US by 2030," he reveals.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the five year survival rate is just five to 10 percent—meaning 90-95 percent of people who are diagnosed with the cancer will die within five years. "The reason it is so deadly is that it seldom (10-15%) presents early at a stage when surgical removal would be a treatment option, and when it presents late the medical treatment options, while improving, are still not very effective in treating the disease." To worsen the situation, "typical symptoms and signs are very nonspecific and can be seen in a plethora of other gastrointestinal diseases."

But while the survival rate is just one percent for those diagnosed in the final stage, it has the potential to be curable if caught very early. In fact, per Johns Hopkins, up to 10 percent of patients who receive an early diagnosis become disease-free after treatment. "For patients who are diagnosed before the tumor grows much or spreads, the average pancreatic cancer survival time is 3 to 3.5 years," they say. Therefore, it is in your best interest to keep a watch out for all the signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You May Have Had COVID and Not Known It.


You May Have Jaundice

Jaundice patient with yellowish discoloration of skin in comparison with Normal Skin color.

The American Cancer Society maintains that one of the first symptoms of pancreatic cancer is jaundice, or yellowing of the eyes and skin, due to the buildup of bilirubin, a dark yellow-brown substance made in the liver. Unfortunately, by the time the color change is noticed, the cancer has already spread beyond the pancreas. Other signs of jaundice include dark urine, light-colored or greasy stools, and itchy skin. 


You May Have Belly or Back Pain

Side view of a frowned young man suffering from pain in loin while sitting on white bedding

Pain in the abdomen (belly) or back is common in pancreatic cancer, the ACS warns, as the cancers that start in the tail can press on nearby organs. 


You May Have Weight Loss and Poor Appetite

lack of appetite

Because people with pancreatic cancer tend to lose their appetite, unintended weight loss is very common 


You May Have Nausea and Vomiting

Woman suffering from stomach cramps in her bedroom at home

The ACS also reveals that the cancer can press on the far end of the stomach, partially blocking it, making it hard for food to get through. "This can cause nausea, vomiting, and pain that tend to be worse after eating," they explain.


You May Have Gallbladder or Liver Enlargement

The doctor examines the patient.

While you aren't going to be able to notice the enlargement of your liver or gallbladder, your doctor may be able to feel this during a physical exam.


You May Have Blood Clots

blood clot

In some cases, the first clue that someone has pancreatic cancer is a blood clot in a large vein, often in the leg, which is called a deep vein thrombosis or DVT. Symptoms can include pain, swelling, redness, and warmth in the affected leg. "Sometimes a piece of the clot can break off and travel to the lungs, which might make it hard to breathe or cause chest pain," explains the ACS. 


You May Have Diabetes

Doctor checking blood sugar level with glucometer. Treatment of diabetes concept.

In rare cases, pancreatic cancer can cause diabetes. Signs of this can be excessive thirst or hunger and having to urinate frequently. 

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You Will Likely Have No Symptoms

daughter with mother who has cancer

In its early stage, pancreatic cancer is often asymptomatic, reminds Dr.Farrell. "Because of the non-specific presentation, we typically focus screening for this disease on those individuals who are felt to be at an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer based on a family history of pancreatic cancer, certain inherited genes ( e.g. BRCA2), the presence of a pancreas cyst or new onset diabetes," he reveals.


What to Do If You Experience Any of These Symptoms

Doctor and senior woman wearing facemasks

If you notice any of these symptoms, try to keep in mind that more often than not, they are not pancreatic cancer. However, you should still contact your medical doctor as soon as possible so they can properly assess your health and conduct tests and exams. And to protect your health, don't miss these Signs You're Getting One of the "Most Deadly" Cancers.

Leah Groth
Leah Groth has decades of experience covering all things health, wellness and fitness related. Read more about Leah
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