Olivia Williams discusses ‘bizarre’ symptom of pancreatic cancer
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Being able to detect cancer early can mean the difference between life and death, yet symptoms can often slip under the radar. While pancreatic cancer can be hard to spot, an expert shares that a “common” warning sign might strike on the toilet.
Sadly, pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate of all common cancers, according to Pancreatic Cancer UK.
This gloomy statement emphasises the importance of getting an early diagnosis to improve your survival outcomes.
Fortunately, Dr Deborah Lee from Dr Fox Online Pharmacy spoke to Express.co.uk, about the key sign of this deadly condition.
The doctor explained that changes in your poo are a “common feature” of pancreatic cancer, with acholic stools being an important red flag.
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Acholic stools are characterised by a clay-coloured appearance lacking bile pigment, according to the National Library of Medicine.
Dr Lee said: “In the initial stages, pancreatic cancer in the head of the pancreas can press on the common bile duct, preventing the normal release of bile into the intestines.
“This results in obstructive jaundice – so the patient notices yellowing of the skin and eyes, dark urine (like Guinness), and pale-coloured stools (like putty). The skin becomes very itchy.
“As the pancreatic cancer progresses, it infiltrates further into the structure of the pancreas, preventing the normal production and secretion of pancreatic enzymes which are specifically produced to digest fat.
“This disrupts normal fat breakdown in the gut and is called pancreatic enzyme insufficiency (PEI).
“PEI causes pale, fatty, greasy, often foul-smelling stools, which don’t easily flush away in the toilet.
“Stools may be light green, pale brown, orange, yellowish, or even white in colour, sometimes with a greasy film on the top, or even look frothy. They tend to be loose, sloppy, large volume, and frequent.”
The expert added that acholic stools are “the most common presenting symptom” of pancreatic cancer.
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“However, in terms of early detection, it’s important to note that up to 27.4 percent of pancreatic cancer patients just say they have a change in their bowel habit, such as diarrhoea, or constipation.”
Apart from acholic stools, the expert also shared other key signs that could help reveal pancreatic cancer, including:
- Abdominal pain
- New onset diabetes
- Change in bowel habit
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weight loss
- Malaise (feeling of weakness, overall discomfort)
- Abdominal distension
- Non-cardiac chest pain
- Shoulder pain
- Loss of appetite.
If you notice any of these tell-tale signs including pale and greasy stools, you should contact your GP.
Dr Lee added: “There are many causes of pale stools, and most people will not have pancreatic cancer.
“However, pale stools indicate that not enough bile is getting into the intestines.
“Your GP will arrange blood tests to check for infection and liver function. They may check for pancreatic markers such as CEA and CA 19-9.
“Other tests may be needed such as a liver ultrasound or CT scan to check the liver and the bile ducts.”
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