Symptoms and risk factors


Pancreatic cancer often goes undetected until it is advanced and difficult to treat. In the vast majority of cases, symptoms only develop after pancreatic cancer has grown and begun to spread.

About 95% of pancreatic cancers begin in exocrine cells. This form of pancreatic cancer is called Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas (PDAC). PDAC is associated with the following early, vague symptoms:

  1. Jaundice – the yellow tone of the skin and eyes a patient can show symptoms of as components in the bile build up in the blood when pancreatic cancer blocks the duct that releases bile into the intestine
  2. Dark urine, light colored stools, and itching may also be caused by blockage of the bile duct
  3. Abdominal pain. Pancreatic cancer may cause a dull ache in the upper abdomen radiating to the back. The pain may come and go
  4. Back pain
  5. Bloating. Some people with pancreatic cancer have a sense of early fullness with meals or an uncomfortable swelling in the abdomen
  6. Nausea
  7. Vomiting

Having any or all of these symptoms does not mean a person has pancreatic cancer – there are many other causes for these types of symptoms.

John Hopkins Medicine:,P00415
Mayo Clinic:


Risk factors

The underlying causes of pancreatic cancer are still largely unknown and very difficult to predict in any specific individual. However, some factors indicate a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer, i.e. these risk factors are present more often in people who get pancreatic cancer than in people who do not.

About one in 76 people will develop pancreatic cancer. People with one or more of the following risk factors have a slightly higher risk:

  1. Genetics. 5 – 10% of people with pancreatic cancer have an immediate family member who also had it. The highest risk group is this group of familiar/hereditary pancreatic cancer.
  2. Diabetes. Patients who are diagnosed with diabetes type II after the age of 50 years constitute a major risk group that suffer a 6–8 times increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer within 1–3 years.
  3. Smoking. Cigarette smoking is well known to increase the risk for pancreatic cancer.
  4. Obesity and inactivity. Obese individuals (body mass index higher than 30) are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer, according to a study of 88,000 nurses. Those who exercised frequently were about half as likely to get pancreatic cancer, compared to those who did not exercise at all.
  5. Pancreatic cysts and chronic pancreatitis. People who have one or both of these are at higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
  6. Diet. A diet high in fat and meat (especially smoked or processed meat) has been linked to pancreatic cancer in animal studies, and a healthy diet, rich in fruits and vegetables has been linked to a decreased pancreatic cancer risk in other studies, but evidence is not conclusive.
  7. Lycopene and selenium. Low levels of these nutrients may be linked to pancreatic cancer, but evidence is not conclusive. Any diet that includes lean meat and red or yellow vegetables should provide adequate lycopene and selenium.



Information on the Patient Information pages is summarized from and, for more information please visit:

Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PANCAN)
National Pancreas Foundation
Lustgarten Foundation
Pancreatic Cancer Alliance
European Society for Medical Oncology
Cancer Research UK
Pancreatic Cancer Action



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