Introduction: The need to detect pancreatic cancer at earlier stages is undisputed. We recorded the signs and symptoms of patients presenting with exocrine pancreatic cancer and evaluated their association with clinical characteristics such as tumour site and disease stage.
Patients and methods: All patients (n = 185) with exocrine pancreatic cancer newly diagnosed at five general hospitals in Eastern Spain were prospectively recruited over 5 years. Symptoms were elicited through personal interviews and signs were recorded by the attending physician on admission.
Results: At diagnosis, one third of tumours of the pancreas head were in stage I and another third in stage IV. None of the tumours of the body and tail were in stage I, and over 80% were in stage IV (p < 0.001) . At presentation, the most frequent symptoms were asthenia (86%), anorexia (85%), weight-loss (85%), abdominal pain (79%), and choluria (59%). Cholestatic symptoms were more common in tumours affecting only the pancreatic head (p < 0.001) . There was a clear trend toward more localized tumours with increasing numbers of cholestatic signs (p < 0.001) . Asthenia, anorexia and weight-loss were unrelated to stage. An increased symptom-to-diagnosis interval was associated with more advanced stage (p = 0.048).
Conclusions: Proper attention to signs and symptoms, especially cholestasis, may help identify patients with pancreatic cancer at an earlier stage. Results also provide a current picture of the semiology of pancreatic cancer which could be of use in studies on the potential of proteomic tests in the early detection of this neoplasm.