Pancreatic cancer

About 8,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the UK every year.

We don't know what causes it to develop, but research into this is ongoing. Like all cancers, pancreatic cancer isn't infectious and can't be passed on to other people.

As people get older, their risk of developing pancreatic cancer increases. It mainly affects people in middle and old age and is rare in younger people. Most people who develop pancreatic cancer are 65 or older.

Symptoms of pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer may not cause symptoms for a long time and some people may have only one symptom. The most common symptoms are pain in the upper abdomen, weight loss, and jaundice.

Pain or discomfort

This often begins in the upper abdomen and sometimes spreads to the back. The pain may come and go or be there all the time. It may feel worse when you are lying down and be relieved by sitting up or bending forward.

Weight loss

This may occur even if there have been no changes in the amount of food you eat.


Jaundice can develop if cancer in the head of the pancreas blocks the bile duct. Bile can't drain away and builds up in the body causing symptoms such as yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes, itchy skin, dark yellow urine, and pale bowel motions.

Jaundice can also be caused by illnesses other than pancreatic cancer.

Other symptoms

Other symptoms may include:

  • loss of appetite
  • indigestion
  • feeling sick (nausea) and being sick
  • feeling bloated after meals
  • diarrhoea or a change in bowel habits
  • feeling extremely tired
  • depression.

Remember: most pain in the abdomen is not caused by cancer of the pancreas. But if you are worried, you should see your doctor.

At The Christie, the gastrointestinal (upper and hepatobilliary) clinical oncology team treat pancreatic cancer.

Last updated: March 2023