Pancreatic cancer usually doesn’t cause symptoms until it is advanced. Doctors use physical exams, blood tests and imaging tests to diagnose the disease.
People with pancreatic cancer may experience back pain, nausea or stomach pain that comes and goes. The pain usually occurs on the right side of the abdomen, just below the belly button, and is often worse after eating or when lying down. The pain can be severe, and it may get worse over time. Sometimes, it can radiate to the back.
Other common symptoms of pancreatic cancer are jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes) and a change in the color of a person’s urine or stool. Jaundice is caused by the buildup of bilirubin, which is a breakdown product of worn-out red blood cells. It is normally eliminated from the body through the liver and bile duct, which empty into the small intestine (duodenum). Cancer that starts in the head of the pancreas can block the bile duct, causing obstructive jaundice. This may be accompanied by a deep-felt itching, known as pruritis.