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Doctor explaining metastatic pancreatic cancer

When pancreatic cancer develops, it does not always produce symptoms right away. In fact, it might not produce any symptoms until it has started to spread. The symptoms of metastatic pancreatic cancer tend to be more pronounced, which is why pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed in later stages.

What are the symptoms of metastatic pancreatic cancer?

The symptoms of metastatic pancreatic cancer can vary based on where in the body the cancer has spread. For instance:

  • Pancreatic cancer that has spread to the liver can cause abdominal swelling and a gradual loss of liver function
  • Pancreatic cancer that has spread to the bones may cause bone pain and frequent bone fractures
  • Pancreatic cancer that has spread to the bile ducts can cause a lump beneath the ribcage (due to a buildup of bile in the gallbladder)

These symptoms can also be accompanied by general pancreatic cancer symptoms, such as jaundice, fatigue, lower back pain and unintended weight loss.

Diagnosing metastatic pancreatic cancer

There are quite a few tests that can be used to determine the cause of a person’s symptoms. Usually, this involves one or more imaging scans or tissue tests.

With regard to imaging, CT scans and MRIs are often used to confirm (or rule out) a pancreatic cancer diagnosis. However, if an oncologist suspects that cancer has spread to other parts of the body, a PET scan may be recommended as well. PET scans can detect abnormal chemical reactions within the body, which can help an oncologist identify a small metastasis very early on.

At Moffitt Cancer Center, we use the most advanced and reliable diagnostic tests for pancreatic cancer. We also offer comprehensive, individualized treatment, using each patient’s unique diagnosis to make evidence-based recommendations.

The majority of pancreatic cancer patients present with advanced disease. Patients start developing symptoms related to site where the tumor has spread. When cancer spreads to the liver or the peritoneum patients can experience abdominal pain, abdominal swelling and abnormal liver enzymes. Symptoms related to metastatic cancer include fatigue, unintentional weight loss, abdominal pain, back pain, jaundice and decline in fitness.

Medically reviewed by Estrella Carballido, MD.

If you’re experiencing unusual symptoms that you think might be caused by metastatic pancreatic cancer, you can call 1-888-663-3488 or submit a new patient registration form online to request an appointment with a member our team. A referral is not required to do so.