Read about what pancreatic cancer symptoms to expect and the best way of managing them.

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Understanding Pancreatic Cancer booklet 2022

Download Section Six of our pancreatic cancer booklet: Managing pancreatic cancer symptoms

  • Pancreatic cancer can cause problems with digestion, weight loss, fatigue (no energy), and pain. You may have jaundice (yellowing of the skin), which is caused by a high level of bilirubin in the liver and blood.
  • Your treatment team may recommend options to reduce the symptoms of the cancer and improve your quality of life. These may include:
    •  dietary changes
    • the use of prescription medications
    • procedures such as inserting a stent or having bypass surgery (to reduce jaundice)
    • complementary therapies.
  • Talk to your treatment team about any symptoms you may be experiencing. As well as providing cancer treatments, they may be able to refer you to a palliative care service to help you manage the cancer symptoms.

  • Tērā pea ka puta he raruraru ki te pūnaha nakunaku nā te matepukupuku repetaiaki, te ngaronga taumaha, te māuiui, me te mamae. Tērā pea ka puta te huhunu, (ka kowhai te kiri), nā runga i te kaha piki o te bilirubin i roto i te ate me te toto.
  •  Tērā pea ka taunaki tō rōpū maimoa i ngā kōwhiringa hei āwhina ki te whakaheke i ngā tohumate me te whakapai ake i tō toioranga. Tērā pea ko ētahi o ēnei:
    • whakarerekētanga rārangi kai
    • te whakamahi rongoā whakahaunga
    • manatūnga pērā ki te whakauru ngongo roa, te whai hāparapara ara karo (hei whakaiti i te huhunu)
    • ngā haumanu tautoko.
  • Kōrero ki tō rōpū maimoa e pā ana ki ngā tohumate tērā pea kai te rongo koe. I tua atu i te hoatu maimoa matepukupuku, tērā pea ka āhei rātou ki te tono i a koe ki tētahi ratonga atawhai taurima ki te āwhina i a koe ki te whakahaere i ngā tohumate matepukupuku.

Ways of managing pancreatic cancer symptoms

Talk to your treatment team about any symptoms you may be experiencing. As well as providing cancer treatments, your doctor may be able to refer you to a palliative care service to help you manage the cancer symptoms.


Not everyone with pancreatic cancer has pain. If you do have pain, you may not be in pain all the time and it can usually be well managed.

There is a range of prescription medications and complementary therapies to help with pain caused by pancreatic cancer. Radiation treatment and chemotherapy can also be used to treat pain caused by cancer.

Many people find a combination of more than one treatment helps, and it may take a little time to find the most effective pain control for you.

Fatigue (no energy)

Fatigue can be described in many ways, including feeling exhausted, extremely tired, sleepy, drowsy, or finding it difficult to concentrate.

  • Let people help you
  • Take time off work or work from home
  • Do light exercise
  • Try to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet


Jaundice is caused by a high level of bilirubin in your liver and blood. 

If pancreatic cancer blocks the bile duct, the bilirubin (in the bile) cannot leave the liver. This causes the levels of bilirubin in your liver and blood to rise, and this in turn causes the symptoms of jaundice.

Common symptoms of jaundice include:

  • yellow-coloured skin
  •  yellow-coloured whites of your eyes
  • itchy skin
  • pale or white-coloured poo (faeces)
  • dark-coloured pee (urine)
  • pain in your tummy (abdomen)

Treating jaundice

Your treatment team may recommend a procedure, such as a stent or bypass surgery, to restore the flow of bile and help reduce the symptoms of jaundice. Talk to your treatment team if you need help coping with itchy skin.

Trouble sleeping

Some people with pancreatic cancer have trouble sleeping or have problems falling asleep, which can affect how well they feel during the day. If you are in pain, this may also affect your sleep.

Find out more about sleep problems

Nausea (feeling sick)

If you have pancreatic cancer you may feel sick at some point.

This can be caused by many things, including the cancer itself and cancer treatments.

Find out more about nausea

Weight changes

It is important to try to maintain your weight and eat well during and after treatment for pancreatic cancer.

Eating small, frequent meals high in energy (calories), fat, carbohydrates (sugars), and protein may help you maintain a stable weight.

If you have tried increasing your energy intake but still struggle to eat enough, you may benefit from a nutritional supplement drink or pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT).

Talk with a dietitian or your treatment team about the right supplements for your needs.

Find out more about managing your weight

Problems with digestion

Many people with cancer of the pancreas have problems with digestion. The pancreas makes enzymes that help to break down (digest) the food you eat. Pancreatic cancer, and surgery to remove the cancer, can reduce the amount of enzymes made by the pancreas.

Pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT)

PERT is the use of medication to replace the enzymes that your pancreas is not making. Taking this medication can help to manage the symptoms caused by digestion problems.

Find out more about PERT

Last updated: December 22, 2022