Pancreatic cancer begins in the tissues of your pancreas — an organ in the top part of your tummy. The pancreas helps you digest your food and makes hormones, such as insulin. When cancerous cells interfere with these vital functions, you may experience a number of unsettling symptoms. According to Cancer Research UK, one distinctive warning sign is jaundice.


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Jaundice is when your skin and the whites of your eyes turn yellow.

As Cancer Research UK explains, jaundice is more common with cancer of the head of the pancreas because the tumour blocks the bile duct – a series of thin tubes that go from the liver to the small intestine.

In addition to the yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes, your urine may be darker than normal and stools may be lighter in colour.

Other symptoms include:

  • Loss of appetite or losing weight without trying to
  • Feeling tired or having no energy
  • A high temperature, or feeling hot or shivery

Unfortunately, these symptoms may not appear until the cancer has advanced, notes the NHS.

It’s important to get any symptoms of pancreatic cancer checked as soon as possible nonetheless.

“Being found late makes pancreatic cancer harder to treat,” warns the NHS.

Am I at risk?

Doctors don’t know what causes most pancreatic cancers but there are some factors that may increase your risk of developing it.

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Cigarettes, cigars, pipes and chewing tobacco all increase pancreatic cancer risk.

A large Cancer Research UK study looking at lifestyle factors found that nearly one in three pancreatic cancers (about 30 percent) may be linked to smoking.

Studies have given mixed results but using Scandinavian snus (a type of smokeless tobacco popular in Norway and Sweden) could also increase the risk of pancreatic cancer.

Research has shown that exposure to second hand smoke doesn’t increase your risk of pancreatic cancer, however.


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Some research also suggests there may be a link between heavy drinkers and risk of pancreatic cancer.

The results showed risk is higher in people who drink more than six units of alcohol a day compared to those who drink less than six units.

Does diet play a role?

According to Cancer Research UK, the links between diet and pancreatic cancer are unclear.

Some research has suggested a possible link between red or processed meat and pancreatic cancer, however.

A study showed that pancreatic cancer risk was higher in men who ate more red meat a day compared to those who ate no red meat.

The same study also showed that both men and women who eat more processed meat have a higher risk of pancreatic cancer.

Other risk factors

Genetics may also play a role. According to Cancer Research UK, pancreatic cancer can be part of a family cancer syndrome, where an inherited family gene causes a number of different cancers to develop within the members of one family.

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