Pancreatic cancer symptoms: Five signs in your stools that may signal the deadly disease

Pancreatic cancer is mostly diagnosed in those aged between 85 to 89 years old, according to Cancer Research UK. Sadly, the survival rate hasn’t shown much improvement in the past 40 years with less than five in 100 people diagnosed with the disease surviving for five years or more. What’s the sign in the loo that may indicate you have it?

If you notice stools that are large, pale, oily, floating and smelly you may have steatorrhoea.

Steatorrhoea is a common symptom of disease of the pancreas, according to Pancreatic Cancer UK. The charity explains: “It happens because the cancer affects the production of the enzymes needed to digest food, particularly high fat food. Undigested food passing quickly through the body can also cause diarrhoea and subsequent weight loss.”

Additional symptoms of mild steatorrhea include:

  • Foamy, frothy, or mucous-filled stool
  • Stool that appears to be covered in a thick, greasy film
  • Stool that is difficult to flush away
  • General exhaustion


  • Pancreatic cancer symptoms: The sign in your stools

But steatorrhoea can be caused just by eating high fat foods and drinks.

Common foods and drinks known to cause steatorrhea include:

  • Nuts, especially whole nuts with the skin or shell intact
  • Oily, high-fat fish, such as escolar or oilfish which can be mislabelled butterfish or fatty tuna
  • Excessive alcohol
  • Artificial fats
  • Naturopathic or essential oils
  • Coconut and palm kernel oil
  • Whole wheat products

When undigested food passes quickly through the body, it can also cause diarrhoea and subsequent weight loss.

As pancreatic cancer grows, different symptoms may appear depending on where the cancer is in the pancreas: the head, body or tail.

These sections (head, body, tail) refer to where sections of the pancreas is located. To illustrate, the head of the pancreas is found in the right side of the abdomen whereas the tail is in the left side of the abdomen, with the body being between both of them.

In total, the pancreas is about six inches long and shaped like a leaf. It lies across your body where your ribs meet at the bottom of your breastbone, just behind your stomach.

It’s main job is to make digestive juices and insulin. With digestive juices being made in the exocrine pancreas and hormones, such as insulin, is made in the endocrine pancreas.

Although symptoms of pancreatic cancer do not appear until the cancer has grown large enough to cause problems, here are a list of signs to be aware of, as pointed out by Pancreatic Cancer UK:

Abdominal pain

This makes sense because of where the pancreas is located within the body, with the cancer affecting nearby nerves or organs.

The charity reports that pain is a symptom in around 70 percent of pancreatic cases. It says: “It often starts as general discomfort or pain in the abdomen (tummy) that can spread to the back.

“It can be worse after eating or when lying down. Sitting forward can sometimes relieve the pain. At first the pain may come and go, but over time it may become more constant.”


Appearing in about 50 per cent of all pancreatic cancer cases, jaundice – when the skin and whites of the eyes turn yellow – appears when there is a build-up of bilirubin in the blood.


  • Stomach bloating: Tummy swelling may signify this deadly disease

Usually, bilirubin – a natural by-product of red cells breaking down – is removed from the body with the help of the bile duct, which can be blocked by the cancer. This is known as obstructive jaundice.


New, unexplained and persistent dyspepsia (indigestion/heartburn) can be a symptom of pancreatic cancer, particularly in older people.

If these symptoms do appear, do contact your local GP centre to book an appointment to see a healthcare professional.

Cancer Research UK has some tips to get the most out of your meeting with the GP. These include:

  • Write down your symptoms, including when they started, when they happen and how often you have them.
  • Write down if anything makes them worse or better.
  • Tell your GP if you are worried about cancer in particular.
  • Tell them if you have any family history of cancer.
  • Take a friend or relative along for support – they could also ask questions and help you remember what the GP says.
  • Ask the GP to explain anything you don’t understand.
  • Ask the GP to write things down for you if you think it might help.

If you would rather see a male or a female doctor it’s worth asking when you book the appointment.

The symptoms above for pancreatic cancer can also be symptoms of other health conditions the doctor may want to rule out first.

Remember, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

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