Spot the signs of pancreatic cancer

Written by: Dr Aathavan Loganayagam
Edited by: Laura Burgess

Pancreatic cancer can be present without causing any symptoms at all. Initially, it’s silent and painless as it grows in the early stages. Symptoms might not appear until cancer affects other organs.

 Pancreatic cancer can cause signs and symptoms such as:

  • pain in the upper abdomen that radiates to the back
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea and vomiting
  • weight loss
  • changed bowel motions
  • a bowel obstruction
  • Jaundice - the liver’s bile duct is blocked with bile that has built up in the blood, which turns the skin and eyes yellow.
  • depression
  • blood clots
  • enlarged lymph nodes in the neck
  • bloating
  • itching
  • Severe back pain.

If cancer spreads, it can cause symptoms such as:

  • loss of energy
  • loss of appetite
  • high blood sugar - about 10% to 20% of people with pancreatic cancer develops diabetes.

There are many medical conditions and illnesses that can cause any or all of these symptoms. Your doctor can discuss your symptoms along with your medical history and may suggest tests for cancer or other conditions.

You should see your doctor immediately if you experience weight loss you can’t explain, severe abdominal pain, jaundice, or other symptoms that worry you.

 Developing pancreatic cancer may be prevented if you:

  • Stop smoking – talk to your doctor for advice on how to quit. They can suggest support groups and provide medications.
  • Maintain a healthy weight – combining daily exercise with good food choices can aid in weight loss if you are overweight, or maintain your weight if already in the correct weight range.
  • Eat a healthy diet – opting to eat a diet full of organic fruits and vegetables, lean meat and fish, whole grains and plenty of water. Eliminate processed foods, limit intake of red meat and alcohol, and try to avoid sugar and caffeine.
  • See a specialist – if you have a family history of pancreatic cancer. A gastroenterologist can provide a check-up and a genetic test to understand your level of risk for the disease.

By Dr Aathavan Loganayagam

Dr Aathavan Loganayagam trained in medicine at Guy’s, King's and St. Thomas’ medical schools. He then underwent rigorous structured specialty training in gastroenterology and general internal medicine in the well respected South London training programme.

He then spent two years during postgraduate training as a research and endoscopy fellow at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals, London. His research was in the fields of pharmacogenetics, inflammatory bowel disease and gastrointestinal malignancy. He has received awards and grants for outstanding research work, including the prestigious NHS Innovation London Award.

Dr Loganayagam has numerous publications in peer reviewed journals on all aspects of gastroenterology. He is actively involved in clinical research. He has particular local expertise in the practice of personalised medicine and the utilisation of novel therapeutic agents in the treatment of complex inflammatory bowel disease. He is currently the lead clinician for endoscopy at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woolwich.

Diagnostic and advanced therapeutic endoscopy remains a major part of his clinical expertise, including assessment and treatment of inflammatory bowel disease, strictures, polyps and cancers.

Dr Loganayagam is an approachable doctor who takes pride in his communication skills with patients. He is keen to ensure that patients are fully informed and involved in all aspects of their care.

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