Symptoms Explained

There are various symptoms that you should not ignore. They may be causing you pain and inconvenience but, more importantly, they may also be warning you that something more serious is amiss. These are:

Persistent dyspepsia/ indigestion

Modern-day treatments for indigestion are exceptionally effective, and the majority of patients with simple indigestion caused by too much acid in their stomachs will recover rapidly within days of starting medication. New-onset symptoms in a previously fit patient that do not respond to acid suppression medication are a cause for concern, however, and should be urgently investigated.

Early satiety

A feeling of being full halfway through meals or developing abdominal discomfort after eating should be investigated.

Change in bowel habit

By the time they reach their 40ies to 60ies, most people have an established diet and a regular bowel pattern that they would call “normal” for them. A significant and persistent change in that pattern should always be considered significant, and needs to be investigated.

Compared to when they were healthy, a reduction in a person’s pancreatic enzyme activity can cause a change in bowel function, often after fatty meals. Some symptoms may be relatively mild and may mimic an irritable bowel. (Irritable Bowel Syndrome as a NEW diagnosis is very rare in the 40ies and 50ies, although in other patients, who have had symptoms for years, this would be of no concern.) You should report to your doctor any persistent change of bowel pattern, any excessive wind or any difficulty in flushing your stools (bowel motions) because they have started to float in the lavatory.


Obstructive jaundice is a condition caused by a blockage in the bile duct. The bile duct is a channel that carries bile from the liver to the duodenum (part of the small intestine). The blockage causes bile to be retained in the body and this makes the skin and whites of the eyes become yellow. The urine also becomes dark and the stools are pale.

Jaundice can develop very quickly, but can take several weeks to disappear completely. When you are jaundiced you will feel very tired and lethargic. Your appetite will be affected and you may have symptoms such as indigestion and bloating after meals. You may also feel your skin is very itchy. The itch is difficult to treat, and may not be relieved until the jaundice settles.

Weight loss

Unintentional weight loss, especially when combined with a loss of appetite, can be associated with pancreatic cancer.

New-onset diabetes

Diabetes of middle age is usually caused by a combination of poor diet and mild/moderate obesity, when the insulin produced by the pancreas is insufficient for the needs of the body. It is relatively rare for diabetes to occur in middle age in a patient who is not at least moderately overweight. Consequently new-onset diabetes in a thin patient or a patient who is loosing weight sometimes predates a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. It is therefore important that such individuals are referred urgently for further investigation.