The first symptoms of pancreatic cancer and its evolution in 4 stages


When cancer that first formed in the pancreas spreads to other parts of the body, doctors classify it as stage 4 pancreatic cancer. The pancreas is an organ that supports the digestive system and helps the body regulate blood sugar.

Pancreatic cancer is difficult to detect at an early stage because the pancreas is located deep in the body. People usually have no symptoms until the tumor has grown very large or the cancer has spread to other organs. According to research conducted in 2020, approximately 29 % of people with pancreatic cancer are diagnosed when the cancer is at stage 4.

Doctors cannot cure pancreatic cancer stage 4 pancreas. Treatment is aimed at prolonging the person’s life, improving their quality of life and managing their symptoms. Knowing what to expect can help people and their loved ones cope. In this article, we describe the symptoms of pancreatic cancer and describe the 4 stages.

What are the 4 stages of pancreatic cancer?

Talking to a therapist can help bear the emotional pressure of stage 4 pancreatic cancer. When diagnosing pancreatic cancer, the doctor aims to identify how much cancer is in the body and whether it has spread beyond of the pancreas. This process, called staging, helps indicate the severity of the cancer and the best treatments.

The 4 stages of pancreatic cancer are:

Stage 0: the cancer is confined to the upper layer of cells in the pancreatic duct.

Stage 1: The cancer is confined to the cells of the pancreas and the tumor does not exceed 4 centimeters.

Stage 2: The tumor may be larger. Or the cancer may have spread to three lymph nodes but not to any other organs.

Stage 3: The cancer may grow to outside the pancreas, into nearby blood vessels. It may also have spread to the lymph nodes.

Stage 4: The cancer has spread to distant sites, such as the liver or the lungs.

When cancer spreads to distant organs, it is called metastasis. Cancer cells are always pancreatic cells, even if they grow on other organs.

Pancreas cancer can metastasize to many places, including:

– the liver

– the stomach

– the diaphragm

– the adrenal glands

– the lungs

– the bones

– the peritoneum, the tissue that lines the abdomen.

Sometimes doctors can only tell the stage of the cancer by doing surgery.

To determine a person’s future prospects, doctors consider the stage of the cancer and how abnormal the cancer cells are. They also take into account the general state of health of the person. When the cancer has spread to other organs, surgeons are unable to remove or cure it. Treatments for stage 4 cancer include managing pain and other symptoms to improve quality of life.

Symptoms of pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer can be difficult to detect at an early stage because it usually does not cause symptoms at this stage. At a more advanced stage, the cancer can interrupt the functioning of the gallbladder, liver and bile ducts. This can cause:

– itchy skin

– dark urine

– pale stools

– abdominal pain

– jaundice, i.e. yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes.

Other non-specific symptoms may include

– unexplained weight loss

– a lack of appetite or feeling full quickly after eating

– indigestion

– depression

– sudden onset of type 2 diabetes that is difficult to control.


Diagnosis and Management of Pancreatic Cancer

de la Cruz, MSD, & Young, AP (53). Diagnosis and management of pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer stages. (nd).

Puckett, Y., & Garfield, K. (2020). Pancreatic cancer.

Tas, F., et al. (2013). Prognostic factors in metastatic pancreatic cancer: Older patients are associated with reduced overall survival.

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