Do you think about your pancreatic health? Even if it’s not discussed a lot like the heart, brain, or liver – the pancreas plays a vital role in your body’s smooth functioning. Did you know that pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate? It’s always diagnosed too late. This makes it all the more important to detect it early and stop its progression.
Today we’re discussing early warning signs of pancreatic cancer you should never ignore. Can changes in your stool mean anything? How about yellowing of the eyes? We’re discussing all that and more.
But first What Exactly Is Pancreatic Cancer?
The pancreas is a small organ that lies on the left side of your belly. It mimics a fish and has a wide head with a tapering body and a narrow tail. The head of the pancreas is situated on the right side of your stomach behind the junction of the stomach and small intestine. The body lies completely behind the stomach. And the tail is located on the left side of the stomach near another important organ called the spleen.
The pancreas consists of exocrine and endocrine cells. Exocrine cells make the exocrine glands and their ducts. The secretions of these glands can help you to digest food by breaking down fat. The tiny ducts of exocrine glands connect to a major duct called the pancreatic duct. It further merges with another duct of the liver called the common bile duct which carries a greenish-yellow substance called bile. It further meets the upper part of your small intestine.
The endocrine cells are few compared to the exocrine cells. They produce hormones like glucagon and insulin which are very important to regulating blood sugar levels.
Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of cells that leads to a tumor. Usually, when pancreatic cancer is detected it will be either of the endocrine or exocrine cells. Exocrine cancers are more common than endocrine ones.
Wondering what can put you at risk of pancreatic cancer?
Then here is the list of the Risk Factors of Pancreatic Cancer.
Smokers are two times more likely to develop pancreatic cancer. Smokeless tobacco products and cigar smoking are equally dangerous. Almost 25% of people with pancreatic cancer develop it because of smoking tobacco.
Obesity can also push you toward this deadly cancer. Having a BMI of 30 or more can be dangerous. A diet that includes processed meats, saturated fats, low physical inactivity, heavy alcohol use, and infections of the stomach and liver make things worse.
Drinking coffee could also increase the risk of pancreatic cancer. But scientists still need research to confirm this. Even people who are not obese and have extra pounds packed around their waistline are at a greater risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
The next high-risk group involves folks with type 2 diabetes. Inflammation of the pancreas could lead to chronic pancreatitis. It’s generally seen in heavy drinkers and smokers. All these risk factors can be modified by adopting a healthy lifestyle.
But a few risk factors are beyond your control. If someone from your family has pancreatic cancer your chances of inheriting it increase. Your age can also put you in a tricky spot. Pancreatic cancer usually strikes people older than 45 years. And it’s generally the male population which develops it more than women.
But is it possible to catch pancreatic cancer before it turns deadly? Only if you are aware of the Signs And Symptoms.
The worst part about this cancer is that oftentimes the signs and symptoms are ignored until the tumor has spread to other organs. It spreads so rapidly and causes such destruction that, until you realize you have pancreatic cancer, there is not much that can be done. It is a silent killer. This is what exactly happened in the case of Steve Jobs, the co-founder and CEO of Apple.
The American Cancer Society (ASC) estimates almost 50,000 people will succumb to pancreatic cancer in 2022. The symptoms are so common and can have a few other reasons as well. So if you find anything off with your body don’t hesitate to have it checked by your doctor.
Now let’s go to the signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer given by the American Cancer Society.
Watch out for Color Changes In Your Skin.
Yellowing of the sclera or the white portion of your eyes and skin should never go unnoticed. It can be because of Jaundice. Jaundice can have a couple of different reasons like liver inflammation and other diseases that usually go along with pancreatic cancer. Jaundice is the first sign that your body shows if it’s hiding pancreatic cancer. Your gums and soft tissues of the lips can also turn yellow.
A high concentration of bilirubin in your blood is responsible for skin changes. The head of the pancreas drains its enzymes in the common bile duct. Bile that is secreted from the liver also empties here. When the head of the pancreas is affected by the overgrowth of tumor cells, it blocks this common bile duct. This causes a backflow of bile and increases the amount of bilirubin in your body. The compound is yellowish in color and thus imparts a yellow tone to your skin and eyes. Sometimes cancer from the tail part of the pancreas can also reach the head and then may cause yellowing. In that case, jaundice could be the last symptom to be observed.
Are you seeing Dark Brown Pee?
Serum bilirubin levels of more than 2.5 mg per decilitre can be dangerous. The average range of bilirubin in healthy adults is less than 1 mg per DL. Anything more than this is considered hyperbilirubinemia. It may or may not affect your urine till it reaches 3 mg per DL.
When the color of urine starts turning brownish it’s a clear indication that the levels of bilirubin are increasing. It gives the typical brown color to your urine. Since its concentration increases in the blood, a lot of it reaches your kidneys for filtration and causes a color change.
Darker urine can also be associated with dehydration. But that generally reverts when you up the intake of fluids. If you find no difference after consuming enough water then it might have some connection with your pancreas.
Is your Stool Different From Normal?
I know it’s a little weird to take a look at the toilet bowl once you are done with your business. But a quick glance may actually tell a lot about your pancreatic health. Bile from the common bile duct usually helps to digest the fat from your food and passes through the intestine with the stool.
It makes your feces brownish-yellow. But when cancer blocks the bile duct there is no bile to digest the fats. This may make your stools greasy and light in color. It may also float in the toilet, leave skid marks on the toilet bowl, and have an obnoxious odor.
Irresistible Skin Itch?
Dry, rough, patchy, and red skin can have many causes from poor moisturizing to allergies and insect bites. If these symptoms come and go periodically then it is definitely not related to pancreatic cancer.
But if you find the symptoms worsening over weeks with jaundice then you might want to go to the hospital. In the meantime avoid scratching the affected part, apply lots of moisturizing lotion and creams, and use cold compresses, hypoallergenic laundry detergent, and loosely fitted clothes. Also used steroid and antihistamine lotions. This just gives temporary relief until the underlying cause is removed.
Now let’s look at a few nonspecific symptoms.
Are you Losing Weight without exercising or dieting?
Unexplained weight loss and loss of appetite go hand in hand. When a pancreatic tumor sits right on top of the stomach it exerts pressure on it on your stomach. It might make you feel fuller quickly since the food holding capacity of your stomach reduces. As you will be eating fewer calories you’ll start looking lean. Pancreatic cancer stops the release of digestive juices. Without them, your body will not be able to absorb more nutrients or vitamins and will become malnourished.
Moving along, don’t brush off that Pain In Your Abdomen.
Abdominal pain may be due to indigestion and stomach ulcers, too. But pancreatic cancer patients complain of discomfort in areas near their stomach. So don’t ignore it. The growing tumor can compress the adjacent organs or spread to the nerves around the pancreas. The pain can also radiate to the lower back region.
Are you fighting Depression lately?
Pancreatic cancer can take a toll on your emotions. Depression can have a million different reasons but it is possible for people with pancreatic cancer to feel depressed. A study stated there is a positive relationship between depression and pancreatic cancer. It can have a sudden onset and may be accompanied by anxiety. So keep a check on how you feel.
Do you see a Rise In Your Blood Glucose Level without eating too many sweets?
Then this could indicate pancreatic cancer. Since cancer destroys insulin-producing cells your blood sugar level shoots up. You may also feel thirsty and have a frequent urge to urinate. Never miss getting your regular blood work done. You can also get a device called a glucometer to test your sugar levels at home.
Are you stuck with Nausea for no particular reason?
The typical smell and taste of a few foods can make you nauseated. Overexertion, exposure to sunlight, and indigestion can be the typical causes of nausea and vomiting. This sense heightens during pregnancy. But if none of these reasons resonate with you and still you keep throwing up then something is drastically wrong.
Pancreatic cancer partially blocks your stomach. It blocks the smooth passage of food through the digestive system. If pancreatic cancer is the root cause of vomiting and nausea you will experience these symptoms getting worse immediately after eating.
The next signs can be caught by doctors with physical examination or through imaging.
Enlarged Gallbladder is very typical of this cancer.
The gallbladder is a small sac that looks like a deflated balloon and is situated near the liver. The obstruction of the bile duct can make bile accumulate in it. Its size then increases and turns into a lump. Your doctor may be able to spot it after touching the right side of your rib cage. To confirm, they may also run along with some imaging. If they see an enlarged liver it would match all the symptoms of pancreatic cancer.
Too Many Blood Clots can also be picked up by doctors as a red flag.
Pancreatic cancer causes your blood to clot in the bigger veins of your body. It targets your circulatory system too. The veins of your legs can get blocked and cause deep vein thrombosis or DVT.
Following that your affected leg could be swollen, red, warm to the touch, and have mild pain. Blood clots can be dangerous and require immediate attention. Since your blood is circulating throughout your body continuously, you never know when that clot could travel to your lungs. It may cause difficulty breathing, chest pain, and ultimately pulmonary embolism. Be careful if you already have DVT.
Do you get cold and clammy feet even when it’s hot? Do you get fatigued and get muscle cramps after doing meniscal physical activity? Chances are you could have poor blood circulation.