Pancreatic Cancer: Signs and Symptoms

Jaundice manifests through yellowish skin and eyes. It occurs as one of the first symptoms in most people with pancreatic cancer (and almost all people with ampullary cancer).

Jaundice is caused by a build-up of bilirubin, a dark green substance produced in the liver. Normally, the liver releases a fluid called bile that contains bilirubin. Bile passes through the common bile duct into the intestines, where it helps break down fats. It eventually leaves the body in the stool. When the common bile duct becomes blocked, bile cannot reach the intestines and the amount of bilirubin in the body builds up.

Cancers that start in the head of the pancreas are near the common bile duct. These cancers can press on the duct and cause jaundice when they are still quite small, sometimes resulting in these tumors being found at an early stage. But cancers that start either in the body or the tail of the pancreas do not put pressure on the duct until they are spread throughout the organ. By that time, the cancer has often spread outside the pancreas as well.

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