This Morning: Dr Zoe explains symptoms of pancreatic cancer
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Thousands of people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the UK every year. Although there are many factors at play, a failure to act on the initial signs could compromise your chances of effective recovery. Fortunately, an expert has shared that a “key” tell-tale sign could strike when you go to the toilet for number two.
While you might not pay too much attention to your bowel habits, your poo could break the news of pancreatic cancer.
Professor Giuseppe Kito Fusai, Consultant Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary Surgeon at The Wellington Liver & HPB Unit, part of HCA Healthcare UK, said: “Pancreatic cancer is notoriously difficult to diagnose, given that it doesn’t often cause symptoms in the early stages.
“Any symptoms that do appear can be vague, meaning they are sometimes dismissed as being caused by other conditions.”
Despite this, one of the “key” symptoms of pancreatic cancer includes changes to your bowel habits like steatorrhoea.
READ MORE: Acholic stools are ‘the most common’ sign of pancreatic cancer in ‘initial’ stages
Although you might not link the changes in your poo to pancreatic cancer straight away, the tell-tale signs of steatorrhoea are hard to miss.
The red flag sign describes excess fat in your poo, changing its structure to fatty and greasy.
If the pale, oily appearance won’t give this symptom away, the foul smell that comes with it should.
You can also identify steatorrhoea by the difficulty to flush your poo away in the toilet as it tends to float.
While this sign is a key symptom of pancreatic cancer, greasy stools are actually stirred up by another sign of the deadly condition – jaundice.
Fusai said: “One of the more noticeable signs of pancreatic cancer is jaundice. Jaundice can be identified by the yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes.
“Jaundice is more common with cancer of the head of the pancreas (the wide end) because the tumour is more likely to block the bile duct, [preventing the normal release of bile into the intestines].”
This warning sign will colour you poo pale at first. Once pancreatic cancer infiltrates further into the structure of your pancreas, it can prevent the normal production and secretion of pancreatic enzymes which are specifically produced to digest fat, resulting in greasy poo.
READ MORE: ‘Cyclical pain’ could be the ‘first noticeable’ sign of cholesterol clogging your arteries
Apart from a yellow tint in your skin and greasy stools, you can also pass the bilirubin out in your urine, making it look darker than usual.
Fusai said: “Jaundice can also be a common symptom of other non-cancerous conditions of the liver and gallbladder and should always be taken seriously.
“If you think you have jaundice, you should go to your GP or A&E as soon as possible.”
However, pancreatic cancer can also cause other red flag signs pointing to a tumour.
According to the NHS, the tell-tale signs of pancreatic cancer include:
- The whites of your eyes or your skin turn yellow (jaundice)
- Loss of appetite or losing weight without trying to
- Feeling tired or having no energy
- High temperature, or feeling hot or shivery
- Feeling or being sick
- Diarrhoea or constipation, or other changes in your poo
- Pain at the top part of your tummy and your back, which may feel worse when you are eating or lying down and better when you lean forward
- Symptoms of indigestion, such as feeling bloated.
Fusai said: “It is important that you do not underestimate any of these symptoms.
“If you find yourself suffering from any of the above, especially jaundice, you should visit your GP as a matter of urgency.
“Your GP will be able to refer you for the appropriate tests and scans in order to determine whether the symptoms are in fact being caused by pancreatic cancer.”
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