Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms and Diagnosis

Causes

Some risk factors associated with pancreatic cancer include:

  • Smoking: the risk of pancreatic cancer is higher among smokers.
  • Family history: pancreatic cancer can be hereditary. The exact genes responsible have not been fully identified. People with two or more relatives who have had pancreatic cancer have increased risk.
  • Chronic pancreatitis: This long-term inflammation of the pancreas is linked with a slightly higher risk of pancreas cancer. Chronic pancreatitis may be difficult to diagnose with pain being the most common symptom.
  • Obesity: Increased cancer risk has been associated with obesity, in particular a body mass index (BMI) of over 30.
  • Age: in most cases pancreatic cancer will occur in people over the age of 65.
  • Sudden onset diabetes: Diabetes has been implicated as a risk factor in some studies and an early symptom of pancreatic cancer.
Symptoms

Pancreatic cancer is known as a ‘silent killer’ with most patients not showing symptoms until the cancer is big enough to touch the other organs around the pancreas. Symptoms are often vague and easily confused with other diseases. You may experience more than one of these symptoms,  they might be intermittent and could worsen over time.

symptom-image-for-webSymptoms of pancreatic cancer may include:

  • Jaundice (yellow skin, eyes and dark urine).
  • Pain in the upper abdomen. This may be a dull ache, a sensation of bloating or fullness or a burning type discomfort.
  • Lack of appetite, nausea and weight loss.
  • A sudden change in blood sugars or onset diabetes.
  • A change in bowel movements, from severe diarrhea or constipation.

Having one or more of the symptoms listed above does not necessarily mean you have pancreatic cancer. It is important to discuss any symptoms with your doctor.

Tests

Screening

In a very small number of patients with a strong family history of pancreatic cancer, that may include two or more first degree relatives affected by pancreatic cancer or a known genetic abnormality, screening using endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) surveillance may be considered.  The true value of screening is unknown and is performed as part of research studies. Research has shown that early detection and treatment of pancreatic cancer greatly improves survival rates.

Who is eligible?

  • People with at least two close relatives known to have pancreatic cancer.
  • People who carry a BRCA2 gene fault and have a family history of pancreatic cancer.
  • People with Peutz-Jeghers Syndrome.
  • People with hereditary Pancreatitis.

What is involved?

  • Genetic Counselling.
  • Endoscopic Ultrasound and Blood Test.

To register for Familial Pancreatic Cancer Screening email info@pancare.org.au

Diagnosis

When patients present with symptoms, there are a number of tests that can be done to diagnose pancreatic cancer including:

  • Imaging tests including CT scan, PET scan, ultrasound and MRI
  • Blood tests
  • Tissue sampling tests, needle biopsy, endoscopy and laparoscopy