Pancreatic cancer is often difficult to detect in the early stages due to a lack of symptoms. However, a person may notice symptoms of pancreatic cancer in the later stages. These include nausea, back pain, or jaundice.

The American Cancer Society estimates that 64,050 people will receive a pancreatic cancer diagnosis in the United States in 2023.

Pancreatic cancer develops when cells begin to grow uncontrollably in a part of the pancreas and form cancerous tumors.

It affects males and females at about the same rate, though males have a slightlyhigher ratethan females.

Similar to many other cancers, pancreatic cancer often does not present symptoms in the early stages. This can make early diagnosis difficult. The symptoms do not vary between males and females and are often nonspecific, which means they may have other causes.

This article reviews pancreatic cancer symptoms, risk factors, treatments, and outlook.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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Pancreatic cancer often does not cause symptoms in the early stages. When they do occur, it is often due to a tumor in the pancreas growing in size or spreading to other areas of the body. People may develop one or more nonspecific symptoms.

A number of different underlying conditions may cause nonspecific symptoms, so the presence of one or more symptoms does not mean a person has pancreatic cancer. In many cases, it is more likely another condition is causing their symptoms.

Some common symptoms a person with pancreatic cancer may experience include:

These symptoms may affect both males and females. A person should speak with a doctor if they experience any of the above symptoms. A healthcare professional can determine whether the symptoms are from pancreatic cancer or another condition.

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Pancreatic cancer can be difficult to detect early. This is due in part to the location of the pancreas, which is deep inside the body. Therefore, an early, small tumor is not easy for healthcare professionals to feel during a physical exam.

Also, doctors do not generally recommend pancreatic cancer screenings, even in people with known risk factors. Screening tests have not been shown to lower the risk of death from pancreatic cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, a family history of pancreatic cancer, as well as certain genetic conditions, may increase a person’s risk of developing the condition.

A 2019 study looking at early testing and diagnosis of pancreatic cancer found that other risk factors may include:

Learn more about genetic testing for pancreatic cancer here.

Pancreatic cancer treatment can vary between people. Healthcare professionals often recommend treatment approaches based on:

  • a person’s age and overall health
  • the chances of curing the cancer
  • a person’s feelings about potential side effects
  • whether or not surgery can remove the cancer
  • the presence of other conditions
  • the stage of the cancer

Common treatment options a doctor may suggest include:

Some people may also consider complementary therapies alongside standard treatments. These therapies may help a person manage some pancreatic symptoms and side effects from treatments. Examples of complementary therapies include:

The American Cancer Society estimates that 50,550 people will die in 2023 from pancreatic cancer, including 23,930 females.

Additionally, pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for 7% of all cancer-related deaths in the country, notes a 2019 review.

The Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database collects information about cancer survival statistics. The National Cancer Institute maintains the database.

The table below shows the SEER 5-year relative survival rates for pancreatic cancer at different stages based on people who received a diagnosis of the condition between 2012 and 2018:

5-year relative survival rateStage
44%localized, which means the cancer has not spread past the pancreas
15%regional, which means the cancer has spread to nearby structures or lymph nodes
3%distant, which means the cancer has spread to distant parts of the body, such as the bones, lungs, or liver
12%all stages combined

Pancreatic cancer affects everyone differently. People who receive a diagnosis today may have a better outlook than the 5-year relative survival rates suggest.

Additionally, individual factors including age, overall health, and other existing conditions all affect a person’s outlook.

A person with pancreatic cancer can talk with a doctor about their individual outlook.

Learn more about the survival rate for pancreatic cancer here.

Below are some commonly asked questions about early signs of pancreatic cancer.

What are the early symptoms of pancreatic cancer in a woman?

Early pancreatic cancers often do not cause any signs or symptoms. By the time the following symptoms occur, the cancer has often grown very large or spread:

What is the most common first symptom of pancreatic cancer?

The most noticeable first symptoms of pancreatic cancer are usually the following:

Is pancreatic cancer common in females?

Pancreatic cancer is slightly more prevalent in males than females.

Pancreatic cancer causes similar symptoms in females and males. However, the condition can be difficult to detect in the early stages due to a lack of symptoms.

People can speak with a doctor if they are experiencing any symptoms of pancreatic cancer. In many cases, the symptoms have a different underlying cause.

Treatments for pancreatic cancer include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. A person can speak with a healthcare professional, who can recommend the best options on an individual basis.

Pancreatic cancer typically has low 5-year relative survival rates. However, a person can discuss their individual outlook with a doctor to determine their own outlook.