Pancreatic cancer signs and symptoms to look out for
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Pancreatic cancer is the fifth most deadly cancer in the UK, accounting for around 9,000 deaths every year. It also has one of the lowest survival rates among common cancers, lowest survival rates, with seven percent of patients living for five years after diagnosis. Therefore spotting the signs as early as possible could be life saving.
The pancreas is a gland located behind the stomach that acts as part of the body’s digestive system.
It works to create enzymes that break down sugars, fats, proteins, and starches.
Symptoms of pancreatic cancer, though, might not relate to parts of the body that you would expect.
For example, one 54-year-old patient experienced “progressively worsening” left shoulder pain as his first symptom of pancreatic cancer.
A case study, published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, explained: “A 54-year-old Caucasian male presented to the emergency department with a chief complaint of progressively worsening left shoulder pain that had been ongoing for the past three weeks.
“He described the pain as initiating in his left shoulder radiating down his arm, worsening with movement and improving with rest.”
It was initially mistaken for something else.
“He had been evaluated by his primary care provider a week before presentation, was thought to have a muscle spasm, and was prescribed a muscle relaxant,” the case study said.
“The pain progressed despite muscle relaxant administration and he noticed weakness developing in his left extremity.
“He denied any trauma to his shoulder, any numbness or tingling, or any similar symptoms in the past.”
A physical examination revealed he was unable to abduct his left shoulder and had “diminished” strength.
An MRI scan showed he had a vertebral body lesion – a type of spinal tumour – that was “likely” compressing a nerve and causing the pain.
This was followed by a CT scan and biopsy that confirmed he had pancreatic cancer.
It had metastasised, meaning it had spread to other parts of the body.
The study said: “Oncology service was consulted. They felt that he would not benefit from chemotherapy, given the grave diagnosis of metastatic pancreatic cancer.
“He subsequently underwent palliative radiation to the C5 lesion.”
However, he died just three months after his diagnosis. The study explained that the lesions on his vertebrae were a common sign of the disease.
“The spine, in the form of vertebral metastases is the most common site of skeletal metastasis of pancreatic cancer,” it said.
“Bone pain, pathological fractures, and hypercalcemia are possible symptoms of skeletal metastases. Early diagnosis and treatment for bone metastases are important to maintain quality of life.”
According to Cancer Research UK, symptoms of pancreatic cancer include:
- Pain in the stomach area or back
- Yellowing of the skin or whites of your eyes (jaundice)
- Unexplained weight loss
- Changes to your poo (stools)
- Fever and shivering
- Blood clots
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