It's Not IBD: Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms You Need to Know

by Jennifer Mitchell Wilson B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional

Pancreatic cancer was thrust into the mainstream media buy the late actor Patrick Swayze's valiant fight with the disease. I have to admit, up to that point, I did not know much about the disease. This little known disease is the third deadliest cancer and it affects both men and women equally. Part of what makes this disease so deadly is that the symptoms can match many other illnesses, and by the time pancreatic cancer causes pain or significant issues, it can be quite advanced and has usually spread.

You might be wondering what pancreatic cancer has to do with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Well, first of all, the symptoms can be very similar. Pancreatic cancer in its earliest stages presents with abdominal pain, nausea, loss of appetite, weight loss, fatigue, weakness, and jaundice or yellowing of the skin or eyes. It may also cause fatty stools.

Research has also noted a higher rate of pancreatic cancer in IBD patients than in the general population. While the study does not prove any cause and effect, it is theorized that repeated cycles of inflammation in the digestive tract may be what triggers the cancer growth. More studies are needed before we have recommendations regarding pancreatic cancer screening for individuals with IBD and their family members.

When you are diagnosed with a gastrointestinal disorder, it can be commonplace to assume that further symptoms are a result of that disease. That may or may not be true. It is always important to discuss new or bothersome symptoms with your physician.

While the symptoms might be a flare-up of your IBD, they might also be a sign of another issue like pancreatic cancer. Know your body and your disease. If something doesn't feel quite right or feels distinctly different than your normal IBD symptoms, please talk to your doctor. It might just save your life.

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson
Meet Our Writer
Jennifer Mitchell Wilson

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson is a dietitian and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.