Signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer

The signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer include indigestion, pain in your tummy or back, changes to your poo, losing weight without meaning to, and jaundice.

This page lists the main signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer. It also explains what to do if you are worried about any of these symptoms.

Pancreatic cancer affects men and women in the same way. Someone with pancreatic cancer may not have all the symptoms listed here, and symptoms can vary for each person. If you are worried about any symptoms, speak to your GP.

Graphical depiction of the most common symptoms of pancreatic cancer. These are indigestion, tummy pain or back pain, changes to your poo, unexplained weight loss, loss of appetite, and jaundice, which is yellow eyes and skin and itching.

Does pancreatic cancer cause symptoms in the early stages?

Pancreatic cancer often doesn’t cause symptoms in the early stages. As the cancer grows, it may start to cause symptoms. The symptoms may not be specific to pancreatic cancer and they may come and go to begin with. This can make pancreatic cancer hard to diagnose.

What are the signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer?

Common signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer

Indigestion

Indigestion causes a painful, burning feeling in your chest, upper tummy or throat. It can also leave a bitter, unpleasant taste in your mouth.

Indigestion can be a symptom of pancreatic cancer, but it can also be a symptom of more common problems. Speak to your GP if you get indigestion a lot, especially if you have any of the other symptoms here.

Tummy pain or back pain

Tummy pain or back pain, or sometimes both, are common symptoms of pancreatic cancer. The pain may start as general discomfort or tenderness in the upper tummy area and spread to the back.

Some people have no pain at all, and pain can vary from person to person. For example, it may come and go at first but become more constant over time. It can be worse when lying down. Sitting forward can sometimes make it feel better. It may be worse after eating.

Speak to your GP if you have pain. If you have lost weight without meaning to and have tummy or back pain, your GP should refer you for an urgent scan.

Changes to your poo

Pancreatic cancer can cause diarrhoea (runny poo) and constipation (when you find it harder to poo). If you have diarrhoea for more than 7 days and you don’t know why, contact your GP or call NHS 111. Your GP may do blood and poo tests. If you have lost weight and have diarrhoea or constipation, your GP should refer you for an urgent scan.

Pancreatic cancer can also cause pale, oily poo. This is called steatorrhoea. Poo may be pale, oily, smell worse than normal, and be difficult to flush down the toilet. This is caused by fat in the poo. It happens if pancreatic cancer has affected your digestion, so that fat in your food isn’t digested properly.

Weight loss

Losing a lot of weight without meaning to can be a symptom of pancreatic cancer. The pancreas plays an important role in digesting food and controlling your blood sugar levels. Pancreatic cancer can affect this and cause weight loss.

If you have lost weight and don’t know why, you should see your GP to find out what is causing this.

Your GP should refer you to have an urgent scan if you have lost weight and have any of the following symptoms:

Jaundice

Signs of jaundice include yellow skin and eyes. Yellow skin may be less obvious if you have brown or black skin, but you may notice the white part of your eyes looks yellow. You can see photographs of jaundice on the NHS website.

Jaundice can also cause dark pee, pale poo and itchy skin. Some people also feel sick, lose weight, lose their appetite or feel tired.

Pancreatic cancer can cause jaundice by blocking the bile duct. The bile duct is the tube that takes bile from the liver to the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). Bile is a fluid made by the liver to help digest food.

Jaundice can be caused by other non-cancerous conditions such as gallstones and hepatitis (inflammation of the liver), or other cancers.

If you think you have jaundice, go to your GP or A&E straight away.

Other signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer

Losing your appetite


Losing your appetite and not feeling like eating can be a symptom of pancreatic cancer, but it can also be caused by other things. Speak to your GP if you have lost your appetite and you don’t know why.

Recently diagnosed diabetes


Diabetes is a condition where the amount of sugar in the blood (blood sugar level) is too high. The pancreas produces a hormone called insulin, which helps to control the blood sugar level. Pancreatic cancer can stop the pancreas producing enough insulin, which can cause diabetes.

Speak to your GP if you have been diagnosed with diabetes in the last 6-12 months and have any other symptoms listed on this page. You should also speak to your GP if you have diabetes that has become more difficult to control recently.

Your GP should refer you for an urgent scan if you have lost weight and have been diagnosed with diabetes recently.

Symptoms of diabetes may include:

  • losing weight quickly
  • feeling very thirsty
  • peeing more often than normal, especially at night
  • feeling tired.

Problems digesting your food


The pancreas plays an important role in breaking down food (digestion). It’s common for pancreatic cancer to cause problems with eating and digesting food.

Symptoms of this include feeling full up quickly when you eat, a bloated tummy, lots of wind, and burping. But these symptoms can be common problems and aren’t usually due to pancreatic cancer.

Feeling or being sick


Pancreatic cancer can make you feel sick or be sick (nausea and vomiting). If you are being sick for more than 2 days and you don’t know why, contact your GP or call NHS 111.

If you have lost weight without meaning to and have nausea or vomiting, your GP should refer you for an urgent scan.

Blood clots


Pancreatic cancer can cause blood to form clots in a vein. This is known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Blood clots often happen in your lower leg, but they can happen anywhere in the body.

Some people don’t get any symptoms of blood clots. Other people may have some pain, swelling or redness in the area of the clot, and the affected area might feel warm to touch. If you have any of these symptoms it’s important to speak to your GP straight away. These symptoms can be caused by other things, but it’s worth having them checked.

Sometimes, part of a blood clot can break off and travel to the lungs, where it can cause a blockage. This is called a pulmonary embolism (PE). This is serious and may cause sudden shortness of breath or chest pain. It’s important to see a GP urgently if you have these symptoms. Or go to A&E if you can’t get in touch with your GP.

Feeling very tired (fatigue)


Fatigue is when you feel very tired all the time, even if you rest. It can be exhausting and draining.

If you have fatigue and you don’t know why, speak to your GP about what may be causing it and if there is anything that can help.

Less common signs and symptoms

There are also some less common symptoms of pancreatic cancer. These include a fever, shivering, and generally feeling unwell or not quite right. Some people also feel like they can’t swallow their food properly. This may be because the cancer can make you feel full quickly when you eat. Depression and anxiety without any obvious cause may also be a symptom.

Can other things cause these symptoms?

It’s important to remember that the signs and symptoms listed here can be caused by more common things or health conditions. These include pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), stomach ulcer, gallstones, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and hepatitis (inflammation of the liver). They can also sometimes be signs of other cancers, so you should always get them checked out.

If you are feeling unwell and you have any of these symptoms, speak to your GP to check if there is anything wrong.

What should I do if I have symptoms?

If you have jaundice, go to your GP or A&E straight away.

If you have any of the other symptoms and you don’t know why you have them, go to your GP or contact NHS 111. NHS 111 will give you advice and arrange for you to talk to a doctor if you need to.

Give the GP or NHS 111 a good description of your symptoms. Mention anything unusual, even if you are not sure if it’s relevant. Read more about visiting your GP. You might find our tips for talking to your GP helpful.

It’s important to remember that having these symptoms doesn’t always mean you have pancreatic cancer, but you should get them checked out.

If your symptoms get worse or you develop any new symptoms, you should always see your GP. If your symptoms don’t improve, ask your GP for tests to find out if there is any condition causing them. You could keep a diary of your symptoms to show the GP.

Questions to ask your GP


  • What could be causing these symptoms?
  • Are there any tests I should have?
  • How long will I have to wait for tests?
  • If these symptoms don’t get better, how soon should I come back and see you?
  • Is there anything I can do to help with the symptoms?
  • Where can I get more information or support?

Personal experiences of symptoms

Quotemarks Created with Sketch.
Quotemarks Created with Sketch.

''My stools were pale and refused to flush. I didn't think much of it as I didn't feel unwell at all, but I decided to go and see the doctor just to be sure.’’

Quotemarks Created with Sketch.
Quotemarks Created with Sketch.

''I realised I was losing weight a lot quicker than I had expected, and I began to be concerned. I had also noticed my urine was getting very dark and I had a pain in my back, and my stools really weren’t normal – I just knew something wasn’t right.’’

Download or order our symptoms materials

You can also download our fact sheet to read this information about the signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer.

You can order free leaflets and posters to raise awareness about the symptoms.

Download the fact sheet
p.1 of the fact sheet

References and acknowledgements


References

If you would like the references to the sources used to write this information, email us at publications@pancreaticcancer.org.uk

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the following people who reviewed our information on symptoms.

  • Willie Hamilton, Professor, University of Exeter
  • Sharon Dixon, GP (Donnington Medical Partnership)
  • Pancreatic Cancer UK Information Volunteers
  • Pancreatic Cancer UK Specialist Nurses

Updated June 2024
Review date June 2026