How to recognise the symptoms of pancreatic cancer

By Pippa Thompson

Pancreatic cancer often doesn’t cause any symptoms in the early stages. This can make it difficult to diagnose early. But as the cancer grows, it may start to cause symptoms. The symptoms and how their effects can vary for each person.

It’s important to remember that symptoms described here can be caused by conditions such as reflux disease, infection in the stomach (gastritis), some food intolerances along with pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), gallstones, irritable bowel syndrome or some liver conditions.

These symptoms don’t necessarily mean that someone has pancreatic cancer. But if you have any symptoms that you’re worried about it’s important that you see your GP.

The symptoms of pancreatic cancer can be quite vague and may come and go to begin with.

Common symptoms include tummy and back pain, unexplained weight loss, and indigestion.

Other symptoms can include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Changes to bowel habits – including pale, smelly poo that may float, diarrhoea (loose watery stools) or constipation (problems opening your bowels)
  • Jaundice (yellow skin and eyes, and itching)
  • Feeling and being sick
  • Heartburn
  • These symptoms may also coincide with a new diagnosis of diabetes

If you have jaundice, go to your GP without delay. If you have any of the other symptoms, you don’t know why you have them, and they have lasted four weeks or more, go to your GP. They should refer you for tests to find out what is causing them.

It can help to keep a record of how often you have symptoms, keeping a symptoms diary can be a useful tool. Mention anything unusual to your GP, even if it doesn’t seem to be related to the symptoms. It’s important to give your GP a good description of your symptoms, including any changes to your bowel habits.

If your symptoms get worse or you develop any new symptoms suddenly, you should always see your GP. If your symptoms don’t improve, go back to your GP until you get a firm diagnosis, or a referral for tests to find out what’s causing them.

The Pancreatic Cancer UK Support Line is a lifeline for thousands of people affected by pancreatic cancer. Our specialist nurses understand the issues you might be facing and their expert help will support you in coping with the disease. Free call 0808 801 0707 (Monday to Friday from 10am-4pm), or email


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