Pancreatic cancer is caused by the abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells in the pancreas, a large gland that’s part of the digestive system. According to Mayo Clinic, pancreatic cancer is seldom detected at its early stages when it is most curable. “This is because it often doesn’t cause symptoms until after it has spread to other organs,” explains the health site.
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According to the NHS, 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
- Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
- Cancer of the pancreas can also be identified in your stools
According to Cancer Research UK, this symptom may appear before the cancer is diagnosed or happen later.
If your pancreatic duct blocks, you might develop a symptom called steatorrhoea. This means fatty stools (poo).
Cancer Research UK explains: “You may pass frequent, large bowel motions that are pale coloured and smelly, and are difficult to flush away.”
According to the charity, these bowel disturbances can mean that you are not absorbing your food properly.
This can also cause weight loss.
Other possibly symptoms include:
- Feeling sick and being sick
- Changes in bowel movements (diarrhoea or constipation)
- Fever and shivering
- Blood clots
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As the NHS points out, it’s important to remember that these symptoms can be caused by many different conditions and are not usually the result of cancer.
“But you should contact a GP if you’re concerned or these symptoms start suddenly,” advises the health site.
Am I at risk?
Doctors don’t know what causes most pancreatic cancers but there are some factors that may increase your risk of developing it.
One of the most common risk factors is age.
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According to Cancer Research UK, almost half of all new cases are diagnosed in people aged 75 and over.
Fortunately, most risk factors are strongly tied to poor lifestyle decisions, so leading a healthy lifestyle will reduce your risk of developing the cancer.
For example, cigarettes, cigars, pipes and chewing tobacco all increase pancreatic cancer risk.
A large Cancer Research UK study looking at lifestyle factors found that nearly one in three pancreatic cancers (about 30 percent) may be linked to smoking.
Research has shown that exposure to second hand smoke doesn’t increase your risk of pancreatic cancer. however.
Some research has also suggested a possible link between red or processed meat and pancreatic cancer.
A study showed that pancreatic cancer risk was higher in men who ate more red meat a day compared to those who ate no red meat.
The same study also showed that both men and women who eat more processed meat have a higher risk of pancreatic cancer.
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