Pancreatic cancer symptoms: Hiccuping, jaundice, weight loss and other signs
Pancreatic cancer is caused by the abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells in the pancreas, which is a large gland that forms part of the digestive system.
“Around half of all new cases are diagnosed in people aged 75 or over. It's uncommon in people under 40 years of age,” explains the NHS.
Symptoms of pancreatic cancer
The NHS notes that “in the early stages, a tumour in the pancreas doesn't usually cause any symptoms, which can make it difficult to diagnose.”
The first noticeable symptoms of pancreatic cancer are often:
- pain in the back or stomach area – which may come and go at first and is often worse when lying down or after eating
-unexpected weight loss
- jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes) – it also may cause your urine to be dark yellow or orange, your poo (faeces) to be pale-coloured, and itchy skin
Other symptoms of pancreatic cancer include:
- nausea and vomiting
- changes in bowel movements (diarrhoea or constipation)
- fever and shivering
- blood clots
Cancer Research also explains that if you have cancer you might get hiccups if:
- your stomach stops working and becomes extended and bloated
- you have an infection affecting your chest, or food pipe (oesophagus)
- you are having chemotherapy, steroids or an opioid painkiller such as morphine
- your cancer is pressing on your diaphragm
- you have symptoms because of a brain tumour
- your kidneys are not working normally and your blood chemistry changes
- you have high blood calcium levels (hypercalcaemia)
“For most people, hiccups are usually mild and go away without any medical treatment. But when hiccups are a symptom of cancer, or a side effect of cancer treatment, they can go on for longer. This makes them tiring and difficult to cope with,” adds Cancer Research.
Canadian Cancer Society adds that “the exact cause of hiccups is not known. People with cancer may have hiccups for no obvious reason, but they may be related to
- some brain tumours
- esophageal cancer
- stomach cancer
- pancreatic cancer
- tumours of the mediastinum, which is the space in the chest between the lungs, breastbone and spine
- bowel obstruction
- surgery to the abdomen
- some medicines
Causes of pancreatic cancer
“It's not fully understood what causes pancreatic cancer, but a number of risk factors for developing the condition have been identified,” explains the NHS.
Risk factors for pancreatic cancer include:
- age – pancreatic cancer mainly affects people aged 50-80
- being very overweight
- smoking – around 1 in 3 cases are associated with using cigarettes, cigars or chewing tobacco
- having a history of certain health conditions – such as diabetes, chronic pancreatitis (long-term inflammation of the pancreas), stomach ulcer and Helicobacter pylori infection (a stomach infection)
Free confidential advice for anyone affected by pancreatic cancer is available through the Pancreatic Cancer UK’s Support Line which is staffed by specialist nurses.