What is Pancreatic Cancer?

Pancreatic cancer occurs when a malignant tumour forms in the pancreas. The pancreas is an organ deep inside your body, behind the stomach and in front of the spine. It has two main jobs in the body, making:

  • Enzymes – these help to digest (break down) foods.
  • Hormones – such as insulin and glucagon, which control blood sugar levels.

In this way, the pancreas helps the body use and store the energy it gets from food.

Be Pancreatic Cancer Aware. Diagram of how Pancreatic Cancer affects the body.

Worldwide there are around 338,000 new cases each year; in Europe that figure is more than 104,000. In the UK, approximately 10,000 people are newly diagnosed each year. Pancreatic cancer affects men and women equally.

There are two main types of pancreatic cancer you can get

Exocrine (PDAC)

This is a tumour in the gland that helps break down foods, this is the most common.

Endocrine (PNETS)

This is a tumour in the glands that releases hormones which regulate some processes in our bodies that help blood sugar levels.

Learn More

Have you got any questions about pancreatic cancer and its treatment?
Visit www.panact.org or call 0303 040 1770.

Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms

As pancreatic cancer develops in the body, it may cause some of the following signs and symptoms. 

The most common type of pancreatic cancer is pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC). Below are the symptoms often seen with PDAC. For more information on symptoms with pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours (PNETs) please see our website. These are:

Jaundice is a symptom of pancreatic cancerJaundice 

The most obvious sign is yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes; it may also cause your urine to be dark yellow and itching of the skin.


Unexplained weight loss is a symptom of pancreatic cancer

Unexplained weight loss

This can occur without any pain or apparent change in digestion.


upper abdominal

Pain in the back or tummy area

The pain is often described as beginning in the stomach area and radiating around to the back. Pain is where a woman’s bra strap would be and can radiate to the front. 


Pain in the back or tummy area is a symptom of pancreatic cancer

Changes in the way you poo

Pale and smelly


Pale and smaelly stools are a symptom of pancreatic cancer


Feeling tired or exhausted all the time


New onset diabetes is a symptom of pancreatic cancer

New onset diabetes

Which has developed recently and is not linked to weight gain


nausea and vomiting is a symptom of pancreatic cancer

Nausea and vomiting

Feeling and being sick


loss of appetite is a symptom of pancreatic cancer

Loss of Appetite

Not feeling like eating


Risk Factors for Pancreatic Cancer

The cause of pancreatic cancer is unknown. However, there are some risk factors which make developing pancreatic cancer more likely. 

Tobacco There is a direct relationship between the amount you smoke and the risk of pancreatic cancer. This includes smoking cigarettes, pipes and chewing tobacco.

Age The chance of developing pancreatic cancer increases with age

Chronic Pancreatitis Long-term inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis) has been linked to pancreatic cancer.

Diabetes There have been a number of reports which suggest that diabetics have an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer 

Obesity Recent studies have shown that risk is higher in people who are obese (have a Body Mass Index more than 30).

Family History If you have a first degree relative (parent, sibling or child) with pancreatic cancer this increases your risk. This is through faulty genes or inheriting certain syndromes. 

Does Pancreatic Cancer run in families? Click here to learn more about Herediatry Pancreatic Cancer.

Reducing Your Risk of Pancreatic Cancer

While there is no clear reason why some people develop pancreatic cancer, we do know that the following can reduce your risk.

Stop smoking.

Smoking is the only confirmed environmental cause of pancreatic cancer and 29 per cent of cases are caused by smoking.

Are you a smoker? You should take steps to stop. You can:

  • Talk to your doctor who can provide you with advice and strategies to help you stop.
  • Find your local stop smoking service – they are available in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • Join Smokefree NHS support group. You can also contact a Smokefree NHS expert.

If you are a smoker talk to your doctor about strategies to help you stop, including support groups, medications and nicotine replacement therapy. If you don't smoke, don't start.


Maintain a healthy weight and eat a healthy diet.

A study in 2011 estimated that around 12 per cent of all pancreatic cancers in the UK are attributable to being overweight or obese2

Keeping a healthy weight not only cuts your risk of pancreatic cancer, but could also reduce your risk of nine other types of cancer too.

  • If you currently have a healthy weight, try to maintain it.
  • If you need to lose weight, aim for a slow, steady weight loss.
  • Talk to your GP who can provide you with advice. Your GP may also be able to enable you to have a reduced gym membership.
  • Combine daily exercise with a diet rich in vegetables, fruit and whole grains with smaller portions to help you lose weight. There are also lots of tools and apps to help you including:
Reducing weight can help reduce your risk of Pancreatic Cancer.Maintaining a healthy weight can help reduce your risk of Pancreatic Cancer.

What to do if you’re concerned?

If you persistently experience one or more of these symptoms which are not normal for you, DO NOT IGNORE THEM, contact your GP straight away.

The symptoms and severity can vary for each person but it’s important if you experience any of the following symptoms, which are persistent and not normal for you, that you visit your GP. It is important to remember these symptoms can be caused by many different conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome or indigestion, and aren’t usually the result of cancer. But, this is about being aware and proactive if you or someone you know have experienced any of the above symptoms, so you can catch this early.

If pancreatic cancer is found early, it is more treatable so visiting your doctor could save your life!

How can I track my symptoms if I’m worried?

Before any appointment, it helps to have a record of your symptoms. The following can help you track them.

Symptoms Diary

Using a symptoms diary will help you track when you have been having symptoms, and how frequent and persistent they are.

You can take this information to your GP if you are worried that your symptoms may be pancreatic cancer and if you have already talked about your symptoms with your GP and they are not going away, you can fill in a copy of this diary and make another appointment to see them.

Expect to be asked more questions at your appointment relating to how long you have had your symptoms or whether they have changed over time.

Keeping a symptoms diary can help diagnose Pancreatic Cancer sooner.

How to use the diary:

  1. Monitor your symptoms daily and make a record of when you had the symptom(s) and how severe you think they are. You may want to note additional comments/concerns to raise with your doctor.
  2. Keep a record for at least 2 weeks BUT if symptoms become very severe see your doctor straight away.
  3. Make an appointment to see your GP and use your diary to describe your symptoms in as much detail as possible.
    • Tell your doctor you are worried about pancreatic cancer.
    • It is also important to tell your doctor if anyone in your family has any prior history of pancreatic cancer.


You can also visit the Pancreatic Cancer Action website or call 0303 040 1770 to find out more.

Pancreatic Cancer Aware - Rasising awareness of Pancreatic Cancer and its symptoms

Raising awareness of Pancreatic Cancer. #PancreaticCancerAware

Who We Are

We’re Pancreatic Cancer Action, a UK charity dedicated to improving survival rates of this devastating disease. We believe that while no early detection test for pancreatic cancer exists, the key to saving lives is improving early diagnosis.

We focus on raising awareness of pancreatic cancer, educating the medical community, campaigning for change and funding research specifically into early diagnosis. Ultimately we want to improve detection and treatment so more people survive pancreatic cancer.

For more information, visit www.pancreaticcanceraction.org


The Pancreatic Cancer Aware Campaign - #PancreaticCancerAware

The Campaign

Decades of underfunding means that there are no curative treatments for pancreatic cancer on the horizon. While no early detection test exists, the key to improving survival rates is getting more patients diagnosed early by getting them to recognise the disease and its symptoms.

The campaign focuses on raising awareness of pancreatic cancer, its signs and its symptoms.

If you believe you have any of the symptoms featured on the campaign, which are not normal for you and are persistent, you should talk to your GP.


Get In Touch

If you would like to get in touch with Pancreatic Cancer Action, please email:  or call 0303 040 1770