Worryingly, thousands of people receive the daunting news of pancreatic cancer diagnosis in the UK every year. With survival rates at the lowest, failure to act on the initial signs can contribute to this dismal statistic. Fortunately, pruritus could help alert you of the deadly condition relatively “early”.
Pancreatic cancer is often hesitant to trigger warning signs until the tumour grows big enough but Dr Deborah Lee, from Dr Fox Online Pharmacy, has shared one warning sign that could ring alarm bells.
Depending on the position of the cancerous tumour, one of the “early” warning signs could be pruritus.
Pruritus, or itchy skin, describes skin that feels pricky with an overwhelming need to scratch it.
Dr Lee said: “Whether itching is an early or a late sign of pancreatic cancer depends on where the tumour develops.”
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If the daunting condition starts in the tail of the pancreas, itching may occur later in the disease.
However, in 65 percent of pancreatic cancer cases, the condition starts in the head of your pancreas so itching can crop up relatively “early”.
“When pancreatic cancer starts in the head of the pancreas, it is more likely to compress the bile ducts early on, blocking the passage of bile into the intestines, and resulting in jaundice with itching,” the doctor said.
When it comes to identifying cancer itch, the expert shared that the sensation will be persistent and take over your whole skin.
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What’s more, pruritus is a “common” symptom of pancreatic cancer that strikes 80 to 100 percent of patients who are jaundiced.
Jaundice describes your skin and the whites of the eyes turning yellow, according to the NHS.
Dr Lee said: “The change in skin colour is due to the build-up of the bile pigment bilirubin.
“[This] would normally be excreted into the intestines, but because the cancer is blocking the passageway, bilirubin accumulates in the bloodstream and is deposited in the skin.”
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This tell-tale sign of pancreatic cancer that comes with itching occurs in approximately 75 percent of patients, according to research, published in The Official Journal of the International Hepato Pancreato Biliary Association.
While itching on its own might not necessarily point to cancer, there are other accompanying signs that could help identify the deadly condition.
In pancreatic cancer patients, itching appears with jaundice and signs that strike on the loo.
Dr Lee said: “Patients notice their stools become pale, and their urine is darker in colour – like a pint of Guinness.
“The stools may look greasy and float in the toilet, being hard to flush away.
“If you notice your skin becoming yellow, and have pale stools and dark urine, you must see your GP urgently.”
According to the NHS, other main symptoms of pancreatic cancer to be aware of include:
- Loss of appetite or losing weight without trying to
- Feeling tired or having no energy
- High temperature, or feeling hot or shivery
- Feeling or being sick
- Diarrhoea or constipation, or other changes in your poo
- Pain at the top part of your tummy and your back (may feel worse when you’re eating or lying down and better when you lean forward)
- Symptoms of indigestion (such as feeling bloated).
The health service recommends seeing a GP if you’re suffering from persistent pancreatic cancer symptoms.