What Are the Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer in Females?

Medically Reviewed By Julie Scott, DNP, ANP-BC, AOCNP
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Pancreatic cancer happens when cancer cells grow in the tissues of the pancreas. One of the most common symptoms of pancreatic cancer in females is jaundice. Pancreatic cancer also can affect weight, stools, and urine. This article looks at the symptoms of pancreatic cancer in females in more detail. It also discusses treatment options, causes of pancreatic cancer, when to contact a doctor, and more. 

Sex and gender exist on a spectrum. This article uses the terms “female” and/or “male” to refer to sex that was assigned at birth. 

Learn more about the difference between sex and gender here.

What are the symptoms of pancreatic cancer in females?

A woman is lying on a bed with a hand on her stomach.
Trinette Reed/Stocksy United

During the early stages, you may not notice any symptoms of pancreatic cancer. As the cancer progresses, symptoms can develop. 

Jaundice

One of the most common symptoms of pancreatic cancer is jaundice, a yellow coloring. A buildup of bilirubin, a dark yellow substance produced by the liver, causes jaundice. The buildup can happen when the common bile duct becomes blocked by a cancerous tumor. 

Most commonly, the whites of the eyes or the skin around the eyes becomes yellow. It is also possible for the skin to turn a yellow-brown color. Other signs of jaundice may include:

  • urine becoming dark brown in color
  • stools appearing gray or light colored 
  • stools that are greasy and may float
  • skin becoming itchy

Learn more about jaundice.

Other symptoms

Other symptoms of pancreatic cancer in females can include:

Learn more about the symptoms of pancreatic cancer.

Are symptoms of pancreatic cancer different in females and males?

Females and males experience the same symptoms of pancreatic cancer. However, pancreatic cancer is more common in males. 

Statistics from the American Cancer Society estimate that, throughout 2023, about 33,130 males and 30,920 females will receive a pancreatic cancer diagnosis.

Experts do not know why males are more likely to develop pancreatic cancer. However, possible reasons include:

  • greater exposure to tobacco and alcohol in males than females
  • differences in fat distribution between males and females 
  • estrogen helping to support health in premenopausal females

What are the treatments for pancreatic cancer?

Treatment for pancreatic cancer varies depending on the stage, type, and location within the pancreas. 

Treatment options that your doctor may suggest include:

  • Surgery: Surgery may be an option if the cancer is in its early stages. Your doctor may suggest removing all or some of your pancreas. The doctor may suggest the removal of local organs or lymph nodes if the cancer has spread. Unblocking the bile duct or small intestine during surgery may relieve symptoms.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy can reduce the size of the cancer and may treat it if caught early enough. Chemotherapy can also prevent pancreatic cancer from coming back. 
  • Radiotherapy: High-energy levels of radiation can kill pancreatic cancer. If your doctor finds your cancer early, they may suggest radiotherapy alongside chemotherapy. Radiotherapy can take place before surgery to reduce the size of the cancer and to improve symptoms. 

To manage other symptoms associated with pancreatic cancer, you may want to consider:

  • talking with a dietitian
  • taking pancreatic enzymes to reduce difficulties with digestion 
  • taking pain relief medication
  • exercising and resting to ease tiredness 

Learn more about treatments for pancreatic cancer.

What causes pancreatic cancer?

Experts do not know exactly what causes pancreatic cancer.

However, certain factors may increase your risk of pancreatic cancer. These include:

Learn more about the causes of pancreatic cancer.

When should I contact a doctor?

You may want to contact your doctor if you experience: 

  • symptoms of pancreatic cancer that do not get better or become worse after 2 weeks 
  • unexplained weight loss over the course of 6–12 months
  • a digestion condition that does not improve after 2 weeks

If you have noticed that your eyes or skin have turned yellow, contact your doctor promptly. 

This cancer appointment guide can help you prepare for your appointment.

How do doctors diagnose pancreatic cancer?

Various tests can diagnose pancreatic cancer. Your doctor is likely to ask you about your symptoms, carry out a physical examination, and take a medical history. 

Your doctor may feel for swelling of the liver or gallbladder, which can be a sign of pancreatic cancer. Your doctor is also likely to check for jaundice of your eyes or skin. 

If your doctor suspects pancreatic cancer, they are likely to request further tests, such as:

Find out more about how doctors diagnose pancreatic cancer.

Summary

Symptoms of pancreatic cancer in females can include jaundice, unexplained weight loss, abdominal pain, tiredness, and changes to stools and urine.

You may wish to contact your doctor if your symptoms are not improving after 2 weeks. Early diagnosis and treatment may increase the chances of survival rates for females with pancreatic cancer. 

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Medical Reviewer: Julie Scott, DNP, ANP-BC, AOCNP
Last Review Date: 2023 Jan 24
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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