If you have not yet already heard the sad news, Steve Jobs has resigned as Apple CEO. Unfortunately, this pioneer of technology has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and can no longer handle the position.
Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death for both men and women. It is one of the most deadly of all types of cancer, and this year about 38,000 American will be diagnosed with it; 34,000 of those diagnosed will die from it.
Fortunately, when caught early pancreatic cancer is treatable; however, the vast majority of cases are not diagnosed until too late. We strongly urge all to check out the below symptoms:
Because pancreatic cancer grows around important areas of the digestive system, gastrointestinal symptoms often predominate:
- Abdominal pain. More than 80% of people with pancreatic cancer eventually experience some abdominal pain as the tumor grows. Pancreatic cancer can cause a dull ache in the upper belly and back pain. The pain may come and go.
- Bloating. Some people with pancreatic cancer have a sense of early fullness with meals (satiety) or an uncomfortable swelling in the abdomen.
- Nausea Diarrhea
- Fat in the stool (steatorrhea). As pancreatic cancer reduces the pancreas’ ability to secrete fat-digesting enzymes, more fat ends up in the stool. These fatty stools can be strange-smelling, and float more than normal. Pale-colored stools. If the duct draining bile into the intestine is blocked by pancreatic cancer, the stools may lose their brown color and become pale or clay-colored. Urine may become darker.
Constitutional (Whole-Body) Symptoms
As it grows and spreads, pancreatic cancer affects the whole body. Constitutional symptoms can include:
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Elevated blood sugars. Some people with pancreatic cancer develop diabetes as the cancer impairs the pancreas’ ability to produce insulin. (However, the vast majority of people with a new diagnosis of diabetes do not have pancreatic cancer.)
- Symptoms Jaundice: As pancreatic cancer blocks the duct that releases bile into the intestine (common bile duct), the ingredients of bile build up in the blood. This turns the skin and the eyes yellow, a condition called jaundice.
- Itching: People with pancreatic cancer sometimes report itching all over. Blockage of the bile ducts is often responsible.
In a very small number of people with pancreatic cancer, early symptoms might be present that could lead to earlier diagnosis. Unfortunately, researchers have been unable to identify any predictable pattern. One study that surveyed 305 people with pancreatic cancer illustrated the challenge:
- About 4% reported having a sudden disgust for preferred tastes (like coffee, smoking, or wine) that preceded other symptoms by more than six months.
- 5% of people had loss of appetite, a feeling of early fullness with meals, or profound weakness, more than six months before more obvious symptoms developed.
- 1% of people had attacks of acute pancreatitis more than six months before their diagnosis with pancreatic cancer. The rarity of these situations points out the difficulty of using early symptoms to catch pancreatic cancer at a curable stage. That said, symptoms like weight loss, persistent loss of appetite, or light-colored stools should always prompt concern. Consistent or worsening discomfort, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea are also worrisome. If you feel something’s not right, see your doctor.
If you or a loved one are fearful that you may have pancreatic cancer, please contact one of our Gastroenterology physicians (you may find one at the facility closest to you by following this link, Find a Physician