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Here are the Signs of Pancreatic Cancer Alex Trebek Felt

Symptoms of the “silent killer” to be aware of.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Beloved Jeopardy host Alex Trebek passed away on November 8, 2020 after being diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer in March 2019. "Pancreatic cancer is rare and accounts for just 3% of all cancers and 7% of all cancer deaths. But don't take a chance if you have any of these symptoms and can't explain why," says Malini D. Sur, MD, FACS. "Patients need to advocate for themselves. Trust that you know yourself better than anybody else." Here are five warning signs of pancreatic cancer, according to experts. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Unexplained Weight Loss

weight fluctuates

Losing weight is one of the earliest and most common signs of pancreatic cancer, doctors warn. "For many people with cancer, this unexplained weight loss is one of the first indications of the disease," says Munveer Bhangoo, MD, hematologist and oncologist at Scripps MD Anderson Cancer Center. "Someone who loses this amount of weight without a clear reason should see their physician to determine what is causing it."



Fatigue is a frequently-reported symptom of pancreatic cancer. "Fatigue is a common side effect. More than half of patients experience some sort of cancer-related fatigue throughout their pancreatic cancer journey and this really can vary from individual to individual," says PanCAN Patient Services Case Manager Danielle Luce. "For some, this may mean that they feel too tired to even get out of bed, whereas others may be able to continue their normal routine, but just feel slightly more tired throughout the day. This really plays into the fact that fatigue can be caused by a variety of different factors, whether it's a symptom of the cancer itself, a side effect of treatment or both."


Back Pain

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

Unexplained, persistent back pain could be a symptom of pancreatic cancer. "There's a difference between back pain that happens after you strained yourself and back pain that keeps you up at night without a clinical cause," says Dr. Sur. "Tell your doctor, and follow up if the issue persists. Pancreatic cancer cannot always be found with a blood test and may require imaging."


Abdominal Pain

Young woman suffering pain at bedroom

Abdominal pain that travels to the back could be a sign of pancreatic cancer. "Almost 7 out of 10 people (70%) with pancreatic cancer go to their doctors because they have pain," explains Cancer Research UK. "Pain is more common in cancers of the body and tail of the pancreas. People describe it as a dull pain that feels as if it is boring into you. It can begin in the stomach area and spread around to the back. The pain is worse when you lie down and is better if you sit forward. It can be worse after meals."



Woman rubbing her eyes.

"The most common single symptom is jaundice, and most patients will present to their regular doctor with jaundice or to the emergency room, and they'll be evaluated and chances are they'll have a scan and may get a scope to help relieve the jaundice," says Matthew Walsh, MD, chairman of the department of general surgery at Cleveland Clinic. "And that'll give them either a clear diagnosis, because you can do a type of brush biopsy of a bile duct in someone who has jaundice, and jaundice is just blockage of the bile duct in this case that causes yellowing of the skin and eyes, and often very irritating itching."


When Should I See a Doctor?

Doctor in white medical lab coat points ballpoint pen on anatomical model of human or animal pancreas

Seek medical attention immediately if you experience any symptoms of pancreatic cancer. "It's hard to catch it early, but it's not impossible," says Dr. Sur. "A lot of patients, when they're having these symptoms, don't realize it could be serious and chalk up abdominal pain or back pain or weight loss to just being something new that's bothering them. The important thing to ask is, have you ever had it before? And if it's a new thing you're experiencing, it's important to go to a doctor." 

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan
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