Researchers have identified two previously unrecognized symptoms of pancreatic cancer -- a discovery that might help with earlier detection and improve extremely low survival numbers, they say.
"When pancreatic cancer is diagnosed earlier, patients have a higher chance of survival. It is possible to diagnose patients when they visit their GP, but both patients and GPs need to be aware of the symptoms associated with pancreatic cancer," said study author Weiqi Liao, a data scientist at Britain's University of Oxford.
Along with confirming 21 previously identified signs of pancreatic cancer, the new study pinpoints two new symptoms -- feeling thirsty and having dark urine -- associated with the deadly disease.
It also shows that patients often have some symptoms of the disease up to a year before their diagnosis, and other significant symptoms three months before diagnosis.
Most pancreatic cancer patients are diagnosed at a late stage and the disease has the lowest survival numbers among all common cancers. In the United States, the five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer patients is about 10%, according to the American Cancer Society.
The study included more than 24,000 patients who were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in England between 2000 and 2017.
Yellowing of the skin (jaundice) and bleeding in the stomach or intestine were the two serious symptoms most associated with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), the most common type of pancreatic cancer, and pancreatic neuroendocrine neoplasms (PNEN), a rarer form of pancreatic cancer.
The two newly identified symptoms -- thirst and dark urine -- were associated with PDAC, according to the study. The results were presented virtually Monday at a U.K. National Cancer Research Institute meeting.
Other symptoms linked with PDAC include: problems swallowing, diarrhea, change in bowel habits, vomiting, indigestion, abdominal mass, abdominal pain, weight loss, constipation, fat in stool, abdominal swelling, nausea, flatulence, heartburn, fever, tiredness, appetite loss, itching and back pain.
Other symptoms associated with PNEN include: diarrhea, change in bowel habits, vomiting, indigestion, abdominal mass, abdominal pain and weight loss.
"These new findings enable us to conduct further work on understanding symptoms that could suggest pancreatic cancer. This will help GPs to make decisions about who to refer for urgent tests, especially when patients have several seemingly non-specific symptoms," Liao said in an institute news release.
Studies presented at meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
The American Cancer Society has more on pancreatic cancer.
SOURCE: National Cancer Research Institute, news release, Nov. 8, 2021