Advanced pancreatic cancer means that a cancer that started in the pancreas has spread to another part of the body.
The most common symptom is feeling tired and unwell. Other symptoms depend on where the cancer is in the body. They might include:
- feeling or being sick
- unexplained weight loss
- tummy (abdominal) pain
- yellowing of eyes and skin (jaundice)
- a build-up of fluid in your tummy (abdomen) - ascites
It might not mean that you have advanced cancer if you have the symptoms described below. They can be caused by other conditions.
The most common place for pancreatic cancer to spread to is the liver. It can also spread to the lungs, or to nearby lymph nodes. Rarely, it can spread to the bone.
Symptoms if cancer has spread to the liver
You might have any of the following symptoms if your cancer has spread to the liver:
- discomfort or pain on the right side of your tummy (abdomen)
- feeling sick
- poor appetite and weight loss
- a swollen tummy (called ascites)
- yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes, and itchy skin (jaundice)
Symptoms if cancer has spread to the lungs
You may have any of these symptoms if cancer has spread to your lungs:
- a cough that doesn’t go away (often worse at night)
- ongoing chest infections
- coughing up blood
- a build up of fluid between the chest wall and the lung (a pleural effusion)
Symptoms if cancer has spread to the bone
You might have any of the following symptoms if your cancer has spread to the bones:
- pain from breakdown of the bone – the pain is continuous and people often describe it as gnawing
- backache, which gets worse despite resting
- weaker bones – they can break more easily
- raised blood calcium (hypercalcaemia), which can cause dehydration, confusion, sickness, tummy (abdominal) pain and constipation
- low levels of blood cells – blood cells are made in the bone marrow and can be crowded out by the cancer cells, causing anaemia, increased risk of infection, bruising and bleeding
Cancer in the spinal bones can cause pressure on the spinal cord. If it isn't treated, it can lead to weakness in your legs, numbness, paralysis and loss of bladder and bowel control (incontinence). This is called spinal cord compression. It is an emergency so if you have these symptoms, you need to contact your cancer specialist straight away or go to the accident and emergency department.
Treatments such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy can sometimes shrink the cancer and reduce symptoms.
Your doctor or specialist nurse can:
- give you medicines
- help you to get equipment that you need
- suggest other ways of controlling your symptoms
- refer you to a symptom control team (a palliative care team)
Symptom control team
There are symptom control teams in most cancer units. They can help you to stay as well as possible for as long as possible. They are also in hospices and many general hospitals.
Most symptom control teams have home care services so they can visit you at home.
Some people have pain but this can usually be well controlled with painkillers.