Pancreatic Cancer

Dirty Dancing

Patrick Swayze

Pancreatic cancer symptoms are typically vague, making it difficult to diagnose early. Because these cancers are often caught at a late stage, they have been hard to treat in the past.

Today, UCSF Medical Center is using new technology that’s resulting in earlier diagnosis of pancreatic cancer as well as earlier diagnosis of benign cysts, lesions and tumors that could lead to cancer if not treated. In addition, we’re providing new customized treatments and follow-up care that are saving more lives.

Pancreatic cancer often is called a “silent” disease because it typically doesn’t cause symptoms early on. The cancer may grow and spread for some time before symptoms develop, which may be so vague that they are initially ignored. For these reasons, pancreatic cancer is hard to detect early. In many cases, the cancer has spread outside the pancreas by the time it is found.

When symptoms appear, their type and severity depend on the location and size of the tumor.

Common symptoms may include:

  •  Jaundice — If the tumor blocks the bile duct so bile can’t flow into the intestines, jaundice may occur, causing the skin and whites of the eyes to turn yellow, the urine to become dark and the stool to turn clay-colored.
  • Pain — As the cancer grows and spreads, pain often develops in the upper abdomen and the back. The pain may increase after a person eats or lies down.
Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.