Pancreatic Cancer: Symptoms, Causes And Treatment

Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancer because it often remains undetected until it has reached an advanced stage. 

To put the severity of the disease into perspective, in 2014 there were more than 9,600 new diagnoses in the UK and almost as many deaths (more than 8,800).

As the name suggests, the cancer attacks the pancreas which is a large gland that lies behind the stomach. The job of the pancreas is to makes enzymes, which help to break down food, and hormones, which control the level of sugar in the blood.

To coincide with Pancreatic Cancer Awareness month and in light of a new report revealing a third of adults would not be worried if they suffered from key symptoms of the disease, we spoke to experts about the signs to look out for, as well as causes and treatment.


The most common symptom of pancreatic cancer is pain around the upper abdomen, which might also spread to the back. According to the NHS, the pain may come and go at first, and is often worse when you lie down or after you’ve eaten.

Other key symptoms to be vigilant of are unexpected weight loss and jaundice – yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes. Some people might also have pale-coloured stools or dark yellow or orange urine.

Other possible symptoms include:

:: nausea and vomiting,

:: fever and shivering,

:: indigestion,

:: bowel changes,

:: blood clots,

:: extreme tiredness.

See your doctor if you have any of these symptoms. Often it’ll be something far less serious than pancreatic cancer, but it’s always best to get checked out.

The pancreas.


“While we don’t know for sure what causes pancreatic cancer, factors which could increase your risk of the disease include: your age, smoking and being overweight, as well as a family history of pancreatic cancer, pancreatitis, and diabetes,” Pancreatic Cancer UK’s specialist nurse Dianne Dobson told HuffPost UK.


Treatment for pancreatic cancer will often depend on the type and location of the cancer, as well as how advanced it is.

The main aim is to remove the tumour completely, along with any other cancerous cells, according to the NHS. If this isn’t possible then treatment will be to prevent the tumour from growing any bigger.

There are three main treatments for the disease. Dianne Dobson explained: “Some people have surgery to remove their tumour. Chemotherapy may be given to slow tumour growth and manage symptoms, and is often combined with other treatments such as radiotherapy.”

It’s worth noting that some people might require two types of treatment, or a combination of all three. 

“An early diagnosis can make a big difference,” added Dobson, “and when combined with treatment increases people’s chances of living longer.”